We’ve all seen the news headlines – “Employer faces OSHA citations for unsafe practices” or “Company fined $10,000 after incident” – but what we don’t see often enough is a detailed assessment of how businesses can minimize or even prevent these incidents from occurring in the first place.
Often conducted to avoid citations or to satisfy a “check-in-the-box” requirement for insurance companies, Safety Audits can actually provide a proactive method of ensuring compliance with health and safety standards while demonstrates commitment to continuous health and safety improvements in the workplace. If executed effectively, these Audits become a valuable tool to assure and enhance Safety Management System effectiveness and can be the difference between a lawsuit with a front-page headline, and a healthy, successful, smooth-running business.
What is an audit? The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) definition for an audit is:
“A systematic and independent examination to determine whether quality activities and related results comply with planned arrangements and whether these arrangements are implemented effectively and are suitable to achieve objectives.”
Essentially, audits are a tool used to evaluate the effectiveness of safety plans to ensure accuracy and proper implementation of processes and procedures established by an Organization. The objective is to meet or even exceed regulatory standards and best practice guidelines.
Audits, no matter how you spin it, can be time-consuming and even be perceived as a “chore” causing some avoid or delay conducting them. However, like preventative maintenance schedules for equipment, they can help identify unknown hazards, prevent injuries and fatalities, and often uncover deficiencies allowing for prompt remediation or corrective action.
No matter what the reason for conducting an audit, Organizations that perform them are better able to identify emerging safety issues before they become bigger problems.
Not sure where to start with a safety audit? Our philosophy at Avetta is pretty simple: we use a three-step CAP approach that can help enhance the audit experience.
- Communicate the Objective
- Address Opportunities to Improve
- Provide Guidance to Succeed
1. Communicate the Objective
Communication is always key and can occur in many ways, but the purpose of communication is to establish a shared understanding of what is to be achieved by the Audit. The objective of your audit should not come as a surprise to the auditee (unless formally required in some instances) and expectations should be communicated upfront in order to obtain the desired result. Let them know up front, what type of audit you are conducting and why it is being conducted.
The term “audit” can sometimes inspire negative reactions, so instead, use the word “review” or “assessment” as these offer a less intimidating approach and can make auditees feel more comfortable. Make an effort to explain the purpose and goals for the end result to put them at ease rather than blindsiding them with unexpected requirements or unrealistic requests.
2. Address Opportunities to Improve
Once the reason for the audit has been clearly communicated, be sure to offer guidance where needed to provide opportunities for improvement adding suggestions or recommendations. Always highlight strengths of the existing practices if observed and then discuss opportunities allowing the Organization to grow and improve on areas that may have been weak or presented opportunity for improvement. This helps to set the stage for timely closure of gaps and/or resolution of corrective actions.
Chances are, for the most part, every audit will have some sort of gap, missing elements or deficiencies, but resilience is a measurable indicator of positive safety framework.
3. Provide Guidance to Succeed
As a general practice, Letter Grades and Pass/Fail grading are typical measurements of Safety compliance for many Large Organizations and offer a quick value to compare against a benchmark, but benchmarks can evolve. What if a contractor scores an 80 percent (or a letter grade of B)? They may “pass”, but the score indicates a 20 percent “failure.” Is this acceptable from a risk or hazard standpoint? In my opinion, no.
Recap the audit findings with the Auditee to make sure they understand why there was a deficiency, why it needs updating and how they can close the gap. Audits should incorporate 100 percent verification in addition to a scoring method and offer methods/opportunities to achieve the highest measure of safety performance. Offering objective advice or recommendations will allow the Auditee enough guidance to ensure success in achieving compliance.
Conducting safety audits takes time and effort, but by incorporating the “CAP” approach outlined above, regular safety audits can dramatically improve a company’s safety performance.