The words “safety audit” often have managers and employees cringing. Although the task may be daunting, the main benefit of regularly conducting audits is that they assist in the continuous improvement of the organisation’s health and safety procedures.
For this article, we provide the underpinning questions behind any safety audit, what you need to do to prepare, and how to select an unbiased, balanced team. We help you to determine the scope of the safety audit and list a series of questions your team should ask during the safety audit.
The Purpose Behind Conducting a Safety Audit
The purpose behind performing a safety audit is to determine compliance with Work Health and Safety obligations relating to workplace and employee safety. Evidence of compliance is the first order of business, but safety audits can also help you to:
- Identify risks in the workplace, as well as the severity of those risks and whether the highest levels of controls are in place
- Reveal strengths and weaknesses in safety processes and procedures
- Show where and how to make recommended improvements
- Ensure that adequate resources are available to manage workplace health and safety and that you’re using those resources efficiently and effectively
- Assess whether safety processes and procedures are legally compliant
- Eliminate unsafe practices and remove or effectively control hazards.
You should conduct an internal safety audit at least once a year to help you to improve your processes over time and to identify areas that need more work.
See our article, 8 Workplace Hazards That Can Kill.
Guiding Principles of a Safety Audit
When you are preparing and planning your safety audit, you should consider these four questions:
1. Does your safety system cover all regulatory and best industry practice requirements?
2. Are the requirements being met?
3. Is there documented proof of compliance?
4. Is employee training effective – can and do they apply specific safe behaviours to address workplace hazards?
Choose Competent and Objective Auditors
A safety audit can only be as good as the professionals who conduct it. You need to form a team with the necessary knowledge and experience in how your organisation should safely conduct its business. Although many companies prefer to do their audits in-house, some bring in outside consultants to guarantee such expertise.
If you opt to conduct a safety audit in-house, we recommend that you appoint a team of 3-5 employees representing a variety of departments. To ensure neutrality and limit bias, team members should not audit their own department. A fresh set of eyes is better at spotting any issues a supervisor or manager may fail to notice.
The safety audit team must be educated on all relevant laws, WHS regulations and other standards. Also, they should understand risk, hazards, control measures and how to spot a breach.
See our article, Can Construction Supervisors Recognise Workplace Hazards?
5 Step Safety Audit Preparation
There are five steps that you can take to prepare for a successful safety audit.
Step One – One week before conducting the safety audit, inform all managers and supervisors so that all of the necessary documents, records, and procedures will be readily available when the audit begins.
Step Two – The audit team should review all past audits and corrective action recommendations, as well as the legal requirements and training requirements for the specific programmes or areas.
Step Three – Review all company, local, state and federal requirements for the specific programme. Also, become familiar with the document, inspection and training requirements.
Step Four – Determine the scope of the audit based on accident and inspection reports and input from various managers.
Step Five – Set a start and stop time and date for the audit.
Determining the Scope of the Safety Audit
When determining the scope of your safety audit, it is critical to gather data as part of your initial research and fact-finding. The easiest and most efficient way to do this is to assign specific tasks to each of your audit team members. You need to clearly define the area they will be auditing to ensure that they gather all the applicable information.
Safety audits should cover the following six areas:
- Employee knowledge – to determine their understanding of critical risks and control measures when at work completing their tasks.
- Written programme review – to compare the company’s safety programmes to WHS requirements for hazard identification, hazard control, record keeping, and employee training.
- Programme administration – to check the implementation and management of specific programme requirements.
- Record and document review – to check for missing or incomplete documents or records to confirm compliance and ongoing competencies.
- Equipment, plant and material – to determine their applicability in controlling hazards for the specific programme.
- General area walkthrough – to spot hazards and areas that need additional protections put in place.
See our article, Do You Meet Your OHS Obligations?
Questions You Should Ask
We’ve identified six areas that you need to cover in your safety audit, and we’ve suggested that you assign them to specific audit team members. For each of the six areas outlined above, there are several questions the audit team members should ask:
- Do we have a current workplace health and safety policy? When was it last reviewed? Do we have in place a schedule to conduct an annual review?
- Do we have an up-to-date incident register? Are our employees regularly and effectively using the incident register?
- Do we have a process in place for communicating WHS issues to our employees?
- Do we have an appointed Health and Safety Representative in each location?
- Is our training up to date for all employees and Health and Safety Representatives?
- Are we effectively recording in the meeting minutes all WHS issues and are they stored in an easy to find and manageable location?
- Is our First Aid kit fully stocked and everyone is aware of how to access it and what to do if they use some of the materials?
- Is all of our signage up to date and appropriately displayed for any hazards?
- Do we have all of the required PPE, is it in good repair and within the use-by date and is it easily accessible by employees?
- If previous incidents have occurred, have we investigated and documented the solutions to ensure we don’t have a repeat?
- Do we regularly review the WHS conduct of our staff in performance reviews?
- Do we regularly consult with industry regarding the WHS requirements of our business?
- Do our inductions of new employees, including work health and safety procedures, include guidance on mental health?
The above list will get you started; however, there are likely to be additional questions that you need to ask that are pertinent to your business, particularly when you carry out high-risk work.
See our article, How to Choose Effective Hazard Control Measures.
What if an Audit Identifies Gaps in Safety Knowledge?
One of the key areas in the safety audit is to review employee training and evidence of knowledge. You need to prove compliance and continuing competence. If your audit reveals gaps in employee’s safety knowledge, the Tap into Safety Platform can help because it offers interactive and engaging hazard perception training.
The training has a focus on critical risk and the common workplace hazards that can lead to a fatality or serious injury within industry-specific scenarios. With over 30 out of the box training modules across a range of industry settings, the Platform is likely to meet your safety training needs. However, if we don’t have what you need, we also build custom training content. If you’d like to know more, please contact us or click through to try a free online demo.
It is critical that you review your business activities with an annual safety audit. The first step is to understand the underpinning questions behind any safety audit to guide you in the process. Next, you need to select an unbiased, balanced team. From there, you need to determine the scope of the safety audit.
The safety audit should cover six key areas: employee knowledge, a review of your programmes to ensure they meet your WHS obligations and that they are administered correctly, a review of your documentation that proves compliance and competence, a review of your equipment, plant and materials and a general walkthrough to spot any hazards that may have been missed.
You should encourage your audit team to ask probing questions during the safety audit as they work through each department, to help to reveal any gaps that you need to address.
This article is also available on the Tap into Safety podcast.