by Cameron Clark
Safety audits—a waste of everyone’s time or a great way to identify safety improvements?
Opinion will be mixed. Anyone who has been involved in a safety audit will have a different one, formed by their own experiences and those around them. Safety audits can be good, or they can be a disaster.
A good safety audit should have all parties engaged positively, working towards a common goal, finding material ways to improve safety at your workplace and enhancing everyone’s commitment and understanding. It’s a rare occasion when safety audits work this well.
So how do you make sure your safety audit is a positive experience and avoid those where time seems to stand still while your life force is sucked out of you?
In a series of blog posts, Verus will discuss ten ways that auditors and auditees can improve the quality of safety audits.
Here’s a quick summary.
Make sure your system is ready
There is no point auditing a system that isn’t fully developed or hasn’t had a chance to be properly implemented.
Make sure documentation and records are available and accessible
This should be self-explanatory. If you can’t provide your auditor with documentation and records that demonstrate your safety practices, you’re going to be hard pressed to get a true indication of your management system performance.
Understand the reasons for the safety audit
Safety audits occur for many reasons, whether it is to satisfy a certification, a license or part of normal internal assurance practices. While each might seem the same, the scope of the audit and the activities that it involves can often be different. Understanding the reasons for an audit can help ensure you are best prepared.
Give the safety auditor time to prepare
Understand the standard or criterion
Unfortunately, audit standards and criteria aren’t often written with the general populace in mind and are usually full of jargon and language designed to help safety auditors, rather than auditees. (Check out AS/NZS 4801 or the National Audit Tool for Self Insurance Audits if you are in any doubt.) Read the audit criteria carefully, along with any guidance material, and make sure you address all that it asks in your systems and processes.
Make sure you have a plan
A safety audit is a complex process often squeezed into a tight timeframe. A good audit plan, one that allocates suitable time and resources, provides the best chance for the auditee to demonstrate how they conform to requirements, while also providing the auditor with opportunity to identify meaningful improvement opportunities.
Use experienced and qualified auditors
Auditing is its own speciality and requires specialist skills. You can verify that your auditor has the requisite skills and experience by asking for evidence of their certification. If the auditor doesn’t have it, you’re unlikely to get much value out of the safety audit.
Don’t conceal or suppress evidence that isn’t favorable
Experienced safety auditors have a knack for knowing when the wool is being pulled over their eyes and will recognize quickly if the auditee is trying to conceal evidence or direct the auditor to evidence of one type over another. At the end of the day the auditor is there to help the auditee improve, so hiding evidence will only leave your system standing still.
Take a risk-based approach
If you have been through a safety audit, you would probably recognize those auditors who don’t take a risk-based approach to their assessment. Safety auditors shouldn’t use a “one size fits all” approach, rather they should consider the auditees risk profile when asking questions and making findings.
Don’t double dip
Don’t be like George Costanza and double dip. While evidence is often applicable to more than one criterion, its poor practice by the auditor to use the same evidence to give the auditee two separate whacks. Safety auditors should closely consider the requirements and the evidence to determine which criterion it best applies to.
About the author
Cameron Clark is a health and safety professional with more than 17 years experience providing OHS consulting and auditing services to a range of large multinational organizations. He is currently a founder and Managing Director of Verus Australia and an Exemplar Global-certified Lead OHS Management Systems Auditor. Cameron can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org or via www.verus.com.au.