Safety Audit

By Tabitha Mishra
Last updated: May 6, 2024

What Does Safety Audit Mean?

A safety audit is a comprehensive and systematic evaluation of an organization’s safety management system.

Safety audits are carried out to assess the effectiveness of a safety program, ensure its compliance with all applicable safety standards, and verify that the safety policies and procedures are actually being followed.

The results of a safety audit are then used to correct non-compliance and identify potential improvements to the safety program.

Safeopedia Explains Safety Audit

What Is a Safety Audit For?

A safety audit is performed to gauge the effectiveness of an organization’s safety management system.

The goal is to ensure that:

  • All known hazards are properly controlled
  • The safety program is compliant with applicable standards
  • The organization’s documentation and recordkeeping practices are adequate
  • Workers have received the training needed to do their jobs safely
  • The conditions on the worksite (including employee conduct) conform to the requirements laid out in the safety program

Broadly speaking, safety audits are carried out for two main purposes:

  1. To verify compliance with safety regulations, document that compliance, and recommend corrective actions if any non-compliance is observed
  2. To identify weaknesses in the organization’s safety programs and processes, make recommendations for improvements to policies and procedures, and note corrective actions that should be implemented

In doing so, safety audits serve the dual purpose of improving the safety of the workplace while also avoiding fines and other costs associated with poor safety performance.

Benefits of a Safety Audit

Safety audits are crucial in occupational health and safety (OHS) for a number of reasons, including:

  • Regulatory Compliance: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets and enforces workplace safety standards. Employers are required to comply with any and all standards that apply to their industry. This includes the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act, which states that employers must ensure a workplace free of known hazards that could cause a serious injury. A central part of a safety audit is ensuring that the safety program meets all of these requirements.
  • Improved Incident Rate: An audit can identify weaknesses in the safety management system. By addressing these issues, organizations can improve their safety performance and see a corresponding reduction in incident rates, along with improvements to other metrics such as the lost time injury frequency rate (LTIFR) and DART rate.
  • Reduced Costs: Audits allow organizations to take a proactive approach to workplace safety. By promptly identifying and addressing safety issues, they reduce the likelihood of incurring fines, penalties, compensation claims, and increases to insurance premiums.
  • Stronger Brand Reputation: Conducting a safety audit shows that the organization takes safety seriously. This commitment to safety can improve the organization’s image with clients and customers, make it easier to secure contractors and partnerships, and inspire confidence in shareholders and investors.
  • Employee Empowerment: Getting workers involved in the safety audit process can strengthen the organization’s safety culture. It also gives them a sense of ownership over the safety program, which can result in more safety buy-in

Types of Safety Audits

Not every audit is a top-to-bottom assessment of the safety management system. Organizations can also conduct audits that target specific aspects of their safety programs.

The different types of safety audits include:

  • Compliance Audit: A relatively simple audit focused only on reviewing the organization’s safety policies to ensure that they are in compliance with every applicable safety standard.
  • Site Audit: An audit that is restricted to a specific workplace, facility, jobsite, or department.
  • Process Audit: An audit that is restricted to a specific work process or type of operation (e.g. an audit of the organization’s confined space entry and rescue procedures).
  • Hazard-Based Audit: A safety audit that is focused on the organization’s handling of a specific hazard category (e.g. an electrical safety audit, a fall protection audit, a chemical safety audit).
  • Behavioral Safety Audit: An audit that evaluates how well employees are following the safety policies, while also attempting to uncover the root causes of non-compliant behavior (e.g. insufficient training, poorly designed work procedures, pressure to meet tight deadlines).
  • System Audit: The most comprehensive type of audit, covering every aspect of the safety management system.

What Is an OSHA Safety Audit?

You might come across references to “OSHA safety audits.” This usually has one of three meanings.

First, it can simply refer to a compliance audit. Or more specifically, an audit that aims to assess how well the organization’s safety policies conform to OSHA standards.

It can also be used to refer to a safety audit that uses OSHA’s Safety and Health Program Audit Tool. While this is not an audit conducted by OSHA itself, the term is sometimes used to denote that the organization is following OSHA’s recommended auditing procedures.

Finally, OSHA inspections are sometimes inaccurately referred to as OSHA safety audits. These inspections are conducted by OSHA compliance officers to assess whether an organization is compliant with OSHA standards. If the compliance officer finds evidence of safety violations, they can issue a citation or require the employer to address the violation by a specific date. While this is similar to a compliance audit, it is really an inspection since it is concerned with the condition of the workplace, not the safety program. 

What Is an EHS Audit?

EHS stands for Environmental, Health, and Safety. As the name implies, an EHS audit will not only evaluate the organization’s health and safety program, but their environmental management system as well.

Similar to a safety audit, the EHS audit will be concerned with:

  • The effectiveness of the organization’s environmental management program
  • Whether the organization’s policies and procedures are compliant with all applicable environmental regulations
  • How well the organization’s actual practices conform to its environmental management program

Safety Audits Vs. Safety Inspections

Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, safety audits are not the same as safety inspections.

A safety inspection is a thorough and systematic examination of the physical condition of the worksite, as well as the practices that take place on it. This can include an examination of the equipment to make sure safeguards are in place, checking the air filters in the HVAC system, or verifying that all employees are wearing the required PPE.

A safety audit, on the other hand, is less concerned with the conditions of the workplace and more focused on reviewing the safety program and policies.

Inspections and audits also have distinct but complementary goals. The primary aim of a safety inspection is primarily to identify hazards in the workplace. The aim of a safety audit, meanwhile, is to ensure that there are adequate control methods in place to protect workers from those hazards.

How to Conduct a Safety Audit

A safety audit can be broken down into five major steps:

  1. Preparing for the audit – Inform all involved parties, gather the necessary documents, review past audit results, determine the scope and objectives of the current audit, and create a comprehensive audit checklist.
  2. Conducting the audit – Review the written safety program, interview employees and gather their feedback, record and document the findings, and conduct a walkthrough of the workplace to verify that it conforms to the safety policies.
  3. Reviewing the findings – Review the findings of the audit in detail, draft a concise report highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the safety management system.
  4. Making recommendations – Make recommendations for improvements, note corrective actions that should be taken, create a timeline for those actions and notify those who are directly responsible for implementing them. 
  5. Publishing the results – Make the results of the audit available to all managers and supervisors, keep a record of the findings to consult in the future and to use as evidence of compliance and due diligence. 

Safety Audit Best Practices

An effective safety audit will follow accepted best practices, including: 

  • Setting out clear and well-defined objectives
  • Engaging all stakeholders (including management, supervisors, and employees)
  • Using checklists and protocols to ensure a thorough audit
  • Hiring trained and impartial auditors to conduct the audit (or to assist with the internal audit)
  • Reviewing all relevant documentation beforehand to identify focus areas
  • Encouraging employee participation
  • Making the results of the audit available to everyone in the organization
  • Scheduling follow-ups to ensure that recommendations have been implemented and corrective actions have been taken

Ready to learn more? Check out our free webinar on EHS Program Governance for Companies with Limited Resources!

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Occupational Health and Safety Audit

Health and Safety Audit

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