The Proper Way to Conduct a Safety Audit
Unlike more localized safety inspections, a safety audit evaluates and assesses an organization's safety processes, procedures, and control measures.
While we have seen a reduction in workplace fatalities and safety incidents over the years, they are still alarmingly common.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a total of 5,333 workers were killed on the job in 2019. That same year, American workplaces averaged 2.8 injuries or illnesses per 100 workers.
These numbers could be even lower. The majority of these incidents could have been mitigated or prevented by taking the right safety measures, including regular safety audits.
What Is a Safety Audit?
A safety audit is a structured, methodical of how workplace activities affect safety and health. Conducting these audits help organizations evaluate the success of their safety and health programs, environmental programs, and process safety management.
The primary goal of a safety audit is to evaluate compliance with safety regulations and the overall performance of the safety program.
Safety Audits Vs. Safety Inspections
While audits and inspections are often discussed in the same breath, the two concepts are distinct. Safety audits and safety inspections are both valuable tools, but they are different processes with different aims.
Safety inspections quite limited in their scope. They are targeted and localized assessment. They tend to focus on one particular hazard, a single work task, or one area of the workplace.
Safety audits are take a broader, big picture look at a company's safety program and its performance. It's an attempt to take stock of safety at an organizational level, rather than pinpoint specific safety issues in the workplace.
Safety inspections should be carried out frequently. Various aspects of a given job, the equipment used to carry out, and the work environment should be subject to regular inspections to swiftly identify and correct hazards.
Due to their broad scope, safety audits are carried out far less frequently. Typically, the audits will take place once a year. However, larger companies, companies struggling with compliance issues, and those operating in high-risk industries may opt for biannual or quarterly safety audits.
Auditors and Inspectors
Safety inspections are typically carried out by an internal team. Typically, the responsibility falls to the company's safety department or its dedicated safety committee.
While audits can be conducted internally, some companies will prefer to hire external auditors to assess their safety performance. Third party auditors can be brought in to eliminate bias, ensure that the auditors are skilled and experienced, or at the demand of shareholders.
(See 6 Steps to Prepare for Unexpected OSHA Visits for related reading)
The Benefits of Conducting Safety Audits
The main benefit of conducting regular safety audits is to ensure the continuous improvement of the organization's health and safety procedures.
Safety audits can also:
- Identify risks in the workplace, as well as the levels of those risk
- Identify strengths and weaknesses in safety processes and procedures
- Make recommendations for improvements
- Ensure that adequate resources are devoted to safety
- Assess whether the company and its safety program are compliant with safety regulations
(Learn about The 6 Key Elements of an Effective Safety Program)
How to Conduct a Proper Safety Audit
There are six steps that are essential to the success and effectiveness of workplace safety audits.
Step 1: Prepare for the Audit
- Prior to conducting the safety audit, inform all managers and supervisors so that all of the necessary documents, records, and procedures are readily available when the audit begins
- Review past audits and their recommendations for corrective action, as well as the legal requirements and training requirements for the specific programs or areas to be audited
- Determine the scope of the audit
- Set a timeline for conducting the audit
Step 2: Initial Research and Fact-finding
- For team-based auditing, give assignments to each member of the team and clearly define the area they will be auditing to ensure that they gather all the applicable information
- Audits should be broken down into the following areas:
- Employee knowledge
- Written program review (to compare the company’s program to federal requirements for hazard identification, hazard control, record keeping, and employee training)
- Program administration (to check the implementation and management of specific program requirements)
- Record and document review (to check for missing or incomplete documents or records)
- Equipment and material (to determine their applicability in controlling hazards for the specific program)
- General area walkthrough
Step 3: Review the Findings
- Combine all of the data obtained to formulate a concise report. Emphasis should be placed on these four basic questions:
- Does the program cover all regulatory and best industry practice requirements?
- Are the program requirements being met?
- Is there documented proof of compliance?
- Is employee training effective?
- Address each program requirement taking note of all deficiencies
Step 4: Make Recommendations Based on the Data Obtained
- For each deficiency noted, develop recommended actions
- Prioritize the risk controls using the hierarchy of hazard control
(Learn more about The Hierarchy of Hazard Controls.)
Step 5: Take Corrective Action
- Involve the managers and supervisors who will be responsible for executing the corrections
- Assign a completion and review date to all corrective actions to be implemented
- Set priorities based on level of hazard
- Review the records of completed corrective actions through the normal management chain and ensure that these records are filed for use during the next workplace safety audit
Step 6: Publish the Results
- Make the basic findings and recommendations of the safety audit available to all managers and supervisors
- It is also important to acknowledge those departments who are properly executing their responsibilities
The Bottom Line
Workplace safety audits assess whether safety management systems are operating as they should. More often than not, workplace injuries and accidents are the outcomes of minor issues that could have been identified by conducting workplace safety audits. Audits protect both employees and the organizations by reducing injuries, lowering operating costs, and increasing productivity.
Written by Kurina Baksh
Kurina Baksh is a Health, Safety and Environment Professional from Trinidad and Tobago. As a recent graduate in the field, she is trained to analyze and advise on a wide range of issues related to her area of expertise. Currently, she is an independent consultant who develops public outreach and education programmes for an international clientele. She strongly believes that increasing public outreach and education can promote hazard awareness and ultimately save lives.