How to Conduct a Safety Audit
Workplace safety is essential in every industry. Every day, people face potentially dangerous situations at work that put their physical and mental well-being at risk. As a safety professional, you’ve centered your career on making workplaces safer and workforces smarter so they can work another day. With this in mind, you may be considering conducting a health and safety audit.
To properly process safety management in your field, you need to know which areas need improvement and which areas are operating correctly regarding workplace safety. You can hire safety consultants or invest in health and safety programs. These are all good choices, but one of the best things you can do now for the safety of your workforce is to conduct a safety audit. Learn if a safety audit could be the right choice for your business.
What Is a Safety Audit?
A safety audit is a methodical, structured process that determines how workplace activities and environments affect the health and safety of employees. The primary goal of a safety audit is to ensure your business is compliant with safety regulations. Another goal of safety audits is to see whether your business’s safety program is working across departments. In other words, if you have a safety program — which you should — a safety audit will determine how well it is performing and whether it needs any adjustments. By this, we mean are employee’s following safety protocols within your facility or are they engaging in at-risk behaviors. A well performed safety audit should reveal these types of unsafe acts or unsafe conditions.
Note that it is preferrable for multiple persons to be involved in a safety audit and may often be accomplished with the involvement of a third party. Anyone trying to perform their own audit will carry a bit of bias with them, overlooking areas that need improvement and giving the highest marks to areas that are functioning, even if those areas could also use improvement. Audits need to be objective and without bias, so someone unfamiliar with the area but trained in conducting a proper safety audit should handle them.
Many people recoil at the term “audit” because of its association with fines, sanctions, fees and overall discomfort for the party being audited. Rest assured, a safety audit is a much more comfortable and helpful experience than something like a tax audit. In the case of a tax audit, the person being audited must pay fines immediately to avoid consequences. After a safety audit, you usually have a certain grace period to adjust your workplace safety protocol according to the audit results.
A proper safety audit seeks to uncover the following:
- Unsafe work conditions that endanger people’s safety and health
- Areas of non-compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements and regulations
- At-risk behaviors of employees
- Opportunities to improve your workplace’s safety program
By assessing these pieces of information, you can take appropriate steps to enhance your safety program to keep your workers safer every day.
What Are the Key Elements of a Safety Audit?
Every safety audit has several key elements. Here’s what you can expect from a proper safety audit:
- Regularity: To get the most out of your safety audits, conduct them regularly. Conduct audits at least once a year or more frequently to foster a consistent work culture that values workplace safety and knows that a safety audit is coming. Regular safety audits can help your workplace achieve better results over time.
- Objective and competent auditors: A safety audit is only as good as the people conducting it. For the best and most impactful results, hire professionals or train individuals in-house with the experience and knowledge needed to carry out a successful safety audit.
- Advanced preparation: You decide when your workplace experiences a safety audit. That means that you and your workforce will have plenty of time to prepare all the necessary procedures, documents and records for the audit. The safety auditors will also have time to prepare for the audit, ensuring they understand your workplace and industry before beginning. For this reason, you should expect to schedule your safety audit at least a few weeks in advance.
- Complete recordkeeping: A proper safety audit results in detailed records of its findings. At the same time, you’ll need to provide all the reports the auditors need that prove various aspects of your safety protocol since the previous audit. When you offer a complete set of records, your auditors will have a greater chance of giving you more accurate results.
- Data analysis: You get actionable data in the form of a concise report as a result of your safety audit. Use this data to improve specific areas of your workplace and workforce and continue the successes of others. A possible outcome of the data you receive can be determining whether your current employee safety training is effective or needs adjustments.
- Modern technology: A proper safety audit will use modern technology to achieve the best processes and results. This can include software like environment, health and safety (EHS) management technology. An EHS management system can help you comply with safety audit standards and OSHA requirements.
The use of EHS management technology has also given rise to the term “EHS audits.” EHS audits often look for many of the same things as safety audits, sometimes with a bit more specificity into the three categories contained within its name. For the sake of this article, you can use the two terms interchangeably since any good safety audit will look at environmental, health and safety factors.
What Is the Difference Between a Safety Audit and a Safety Inspection?
Understanding the major differences between a safety audit and a safety inspection is important. Both deal with the safety of your workforce and usually involve a third party conducting the audit or the inspection. They’re both valuable tools for your workplace, but that’s where their main similarities end. Safety audits and safety inspections differ in their processes and aims, and you should know the difference before having one or the other conducted at your job.
Here are the main differences between safety audits and safety inspections:
- Scope: Safety inspections have a limited scope. They are more of a localized, targeted assessment to determine the safety of a specific area of your workplace. They’ll often focus on one hazard or a single work task. Safety audits are much broader. They look at your company’s safety plan and how the plan is performing. In other words, a safety audit focuses on the safety performance of the entire organization.
- Frequency: Safety audits should occur at least once per year, more often if needed. Safety inspections can happen much more frequently, even once per week or more for some companies.
- Auditors and inspectors: Internal teams generally conduct safety inspections. A company’s safety department handles these frequent inspections, ensuring work tasks can occur safely and efficiently daily. When it comes to safety audits, most companies prefer hiring a third party to assess their safety performance for reasons like avoiding bias and bringing the most skills and knowledge to the audit. Many shareholders also require an objective third party conducts safety audits.
How to Conduct a Proper Safety Audit
Now that you have more context, it’s time to learn how to conduct a proper safety audit for your business. Here are the main steps of most safety audits to help you know what to expect.
1. Prepare for the Audit
The first step is preparing for the audit. Here, you’ll answer many of your early questions regarding the audit and confirm information to help the audit go smoothly. Here are some ways you can prepare for your upcoming audit:
- Inform your safety team, supervisors and managers that an audit is on the way. Have them gather all the necessary legal documents and ensure all their safety procedures are operational. All this information should be ready for access by the time the audit begins.
- Review your past audit results and their corrective action recommendations, making sure your company is following them. Also, review legal and training requirements that are relevant to the areas of your company being audited.
- Determine the scope of the audit.
- Set a timeline for conducting the audit. This includes the start date of the audit and all days spent auditing your company until the projected end date.
2. Conduct the Audit
After completing your period of preparation, it’s time to conduct the audit. Most audits focus on the following areas:
- Employee knowledge
- Written program review that compares your company’s safety program to federal requirements, including hazard control and identification, employee training and record keeping
- Program roll-out and administration to check the management and implementation of your program’s requirements
- Document and record review to check for incomplete or missing records or documents
- Equipment and material inspection to determine their ability to control hazards within your program
- General walkthroughs of the area involved in the audit
3. Review Your Findings
After the audit, you need to review the data you uncover. Combine all the data you obtain into a concise report. The auditing party will often do this for you. Emphasize your findings on the following four questions:
- Does your safety program cover all the best-practice and regulatory requirements?
- Are you meeting all the requirements of your safety program?
- Do you have documented proof of your compliance with your safety program?
- Is the training you’re giving your employees proving to be effective?
Be sure to address each program requirement and acknowledge any areas where you’re experiencing a shortcoming.
4. Take Corrective and Preventive Actions
Once you have your findings, it’s time to take the appropriate corrective and preventive actions to ensure future success and compliance with regulations. First, develop recommended actions for each deficiency found during the review. Then prioritize these deficiencies based on their level of risk, starting with the most crucial areas that can affect other areas of your audit findings.
Next, you must put your recommendations into action. Be sure to involve your supervisors and managers in this process, as they will be directly responsible for implementing the corrections you put forth. It’s also important to assign a completion and review date to any corrective actions you present, setting priority times based on each area’s hazard level. After this, you can go through your management chain to review the records of your completed corrective actions, filing them for easy access during the next workplace safety audit.
5. Publish the Results
Lastly, make your recommendations and findings from the audit available to all supervisors and managers. This ensures everyone involved with your company’s safety program can see the areas that need improvement and the successful areas. You can also take this time to formally acknowledge the departments that properly executed their safety responsibilities while encouraging the areas that need improvement, telling them their success is on the horizon.
Benefits of a Safety Audit
When a safety audit is performed for your facility, you open your workforce and your workplace up to many important benefits. Here are the benefits of a safety audit as part of a complete safety management system:
- Identify risks: Safety audits help you identify unknown risks in the workplace, and unknown risks can often be the most dangerous as they catch people off guard. You’ll also better understand the levels of those risks and can take corrective measures more efficiently and logically.
- Identify strengths and weaknesses: As a safety professional, you need to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the workplace you’re in charge of. Understanding your existing areas of strength will help you better understand how your facilities and workforce naturally achieve better safety. By discovering your weakness, you can better identify the areas you need to focus on and perhaps learn more about for improvement.
- Make informed decisions: Safety audits provide actionable data you can use to make informed decisions. Guesswork is a poor response when it comes to workplace safety. Instead, use the data you get from safety audits to make decisions that can save lives and keep your workforce happier and more efficient.
- Allocate appropriate resources to safety: Many safety procedures, precautions and upgrades require money and resources. While you may know areas that could use more resources, it could be hard to prove this knowledge to investors without hard data and reporting. The findings of your safety audit can give you hard proof of the areas that need improvement so you can get the funding and resources you need for increased safety.
- Comply with regulations: You want to make sure your workplace complies with regulations to keep your workers as safe as possible while avoiding hefty fines for falling short of regulatory standards.
Contact Us for Safety Training and Audits
Need help in conducting a comprehensive audit at your facility? Click here to request a quote for trained professionals to provide you with this service. Stay regulation-compliant by ensuring you’re up to date on your online safety training.
NASP also offers a Safety Auditor Certificate Course that you may find helpful if doing in-house audits for you or your team. For all of your regulatory requirement needs, NASP has you covered.
Contact us today to take the next step toward a safety certificate through our online courses.