These days, the safety and well-being of workers is a major concern for employers. According to the most recent statistics available from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), approximately 4,405 workers were killed on the job in 2013. Additionally, thousands of work-related injuries are reported every day. Thankfully, the majority of occupational injuries and fatalities can be mitigated or prevented by regularly conducting workplace safety audits.

What Is a Safety Audit?

A safety audit is a structured, methodical assessment and evaluation of how workplace activities affect safety and health. It helps organizations determine the success of their safety and health programs, environmental programs, and process safety management. Safety audits, then, are kind of like financial audits—they evaluate compliance and performance.

What Are the Benefits of Conducting Safety Audits?

The main benefit of regularly conducting safety audits in the workplace is that it assists in the continuous improvement of the organization’s occupational 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
  • Reveals to management and employees where and how to make recommend improvements
  • Ensure that adequate resources are available to manage workplace health and safety, and that those resources are being used efficiently and effectively (see How Many Safety Pros Do You Need to Hire? to learn more)
  • Assess whether safety processes and procedures are legally compliant
  • Eliminate unsafe practices and hazards that lead to injuries and accidents

Safety Audits Versus Safety Inspections

Safety audits differ from safety inspections in a few ways. First, they tend to be performed less frequently than inspections. Their aims are also different: safety audits assess the organization's overall compliance with regulations and policies, while safety inspections are carried out as part of compliance obligations and involve the use of checklists.

Who performs each is also important. Safety audits are performed by third parties, such as auditors who are completely external to the organization. Safety inspections, on the other hand, are carried out by members of the organization’s own safety committee.

Safety audits, then, are quite a different affair from inspections. They seek to determine the effectiveness of health and safety programs and cannot take the place of regular safety inspections (see also What Is the Difference Between a Safety Inspection and a Safety Audit?).

How to Conduct a Proper Safety Audit

There are six steps that are essentially 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 will be readily available when the audit begins
  • Review all past audits and corrective action recommendations, as well as the legal requirements and training requirements for the specific program(s) or area(s) 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:
    1. Employee knowledge
    2. Written program review (to compare the company’s program to federal requirements for hazard identification, hazard control, record keeping, and employee training)
    3. Program administration (to check the implementation and management of specific program requirements)
    4. Record and document review (to check for missing or incomplete documents or records)
    5. Equipment and material (to determine their applicability in controlling hazards for the specific program)
    6. General area walk through

Step 3: Review the findings of the safety audit

  • Combine all data obtain to formulate a concise report. Emphasis should be placed on the following four basic questions:
    1. Does the program cover all regulatory and best industry practice requirements?

    2. Are the program requirements being met?

    3. Is there documented proof of compliance?
    4. Is employee training effective? (see 7 Superb Psychological Tactics for EHS Training for tips and advice)
  • Address each program requirement taking note of all deficiencies

Step 4: Make recommendations based on the data obtained

Step 5: Implement corrective actions

  • 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 of the safety audit

  • 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 seek to identify whether safety management systems are operating effectively and efficiently. More often than not, workplace injuries and accidents are the outcomes of minor issues that could have been identified by conducting workplace safety audits. Therefore, proper auditing protects both employees and the organizations by reducing injuries and operating costs, which, in turn, increases productivity.