Health and Safety Audits: The Basics
28 February 2023 - Evotix
Audits are like anything else in health and safety: without a proper process in place, they’ll feel pretty tedious. Far from being just a bureaucratic measure, audits help you identify areas within your business that need improved – helping you proactively enhance operations. Therefore, investing time in carrying out health and safety audits, and doing so properly, is crucial to making your operations more effective.
What is a health and safety audit?
In simple terms, a health and safety audit is an assessment of an organization’s health and safety systems, procedures and policies. Organizations conduct audits to improve employee safety, evaluate the efficacy of health and safety systems and ensure compliance with regulations and standards.
It may seem complicated, but the essential goals of an audit can be broken down into three major components: safety, efficacy and compliance.
Employers must provide a safe workplace for their employees and an effective audit can highlight hazards and unsafe procedures. With this information, organizations can then take preventative and corrective actions to eliminate these from their workplace.
Performing an audit is a great way of ensuring that an organization’s health and safety systems, policies and tools (PPE, software, etc.) function well and keep employees safe.
Audits can be a useful tool in ensuring that an organization’s operations comply with contemporary regulations. They provide a record of compliance, which can help organizations avoid violating regulations and paying fines.
Audits can also have benefits for employees and employers beyond the expected. We’ll get into those benefits—and the reasons why your company should conduct regular health and safety audits—in the sections below.
Why should your organization conduct regular health and safety audits?
Regular audits can have positive effects that ripple throughout your organization. Here are a few of the ways your company can benefit from conducting regular audits:
Identify and eliminate hazards and unsafe practices.
When it comes to the health and safety of employees, it’s an employer’s responsibility to be proactive. Corrective actions alone won’t create a safe workplace; instead of waiting for an incident to occur, employers must take preventative action by eliminating hazards. Conducting an audit is an effective way to accomplish this: once a hazard is identified and recorded, management can eliminate it. This system benefits both employees and employers by creating a safer workplace and avoiding costs that may result from an incident.
Evaluate the effectiveness of procedures and improve where possible.
In the absence of an evaluation, an organization’s health and safety policies and procedures will continue to operate under the status quo, whether they’re effective at maintaining the health and safety of the workforce or not. An audit reviews the effectiveness of an organization’s health and safety systems, procedures and policies, including tools such as software and PPE. Once these evaluations highlight areas that might be improved, management can make changes accordingly.
Ensure compliance with authorities and organizational standards.
Authorities such as OSHA, HSE and Safe Work Australia regularly update safety regulations and standards. When new measures and procedures are introduced, previous health and safety systems may no longer comply with regulatory guidelines. That’s why it’s important for organizations to regularly check their operations for compliance as part of a health and safety audit. Noncompliance can result in steep fines.
By including PPE checks, audits ensure that employers are providing appropriate PPE (like helmets and gloves) to employees who require them. They also ensure that equipment is in good condition and meets standards set by authorities such as OSHA, HSE and Safe Work Australia. These evaluations highlight areas where improvements might be made, enabling management to update outdated or broken PPE.
Create a workplace culture engaged in safety practices.
One way to foster a workplace culture that promotes health and safety is to engage employees in safety practices and procedures. Performing regular health and safety audits shows employees that your organization takes their well-being seriously and can help initiate their engagement with the process. Another way to encourage engagement is through staff engagement software. Software can streamline the engagement process and inspire employees to become more active in health and safety practices. Working a software solution that has a mobile app can further enhance that engagement.
How should your organization conduct a health and safety audit?
Audits can be broken down into a six-step process:
Step 1: Gather documentation and personnel
Before performing an audit, it’s important to make sure that you’ve gathered the required documentation. These documents include, but aren’t limited to, records of previous safety training, reports of workplace incidents and instructions for emergency procedures. Plus, workers participating in the audit should be made aware of their responsibilities.
Step 2: Conduct research
This stage of the process has multiple elements. These should include reviewing the current safety policies, assessing the equipment, materials and surfaces of the workplace, interviewing employees and performing a walkthrough of the entire workplace.
Step 3: Review findings
With the research complete, all findings should be gathered and reviewed. Throughout this review, an assessment should be made based on key areas such as employee safety, regulatory compliance and adequacy of safety policies, procedures and documentation.
Step 4: Make recommendations
Recommendations should be made based on the assessments made in the previous step. These recommendations should be prioritized in accordance with the level of risk and the likelihood of an incident.
Step 5: Implement required changes
Once the necessary staff members have approved any recommendations, these must be implemented as quickly as possible and in accordance with the agreed prioritization.
Step 6: Publish and document results
To ensure there is visibility across the company, the findings of the health and safety audit must be published. This should include a clear layout of the proposed changes to be implemented and acknowledgment of the safety hazards that are being addressed. Finally, everything must be documented accurately for future viewing and assessment.
When should health and safety audits be performed?
While small-scale, specialized safety inspections may be conducted roughly every three months, large-scale, sweeping safety audits will be conducted less frequently—once a year, according to best practices—and are often undertaken due to external factors. For example, an organization may choose to undertake a health and safety audit after there have been changes in personnel or practices, changes in regulations or an extended period without an audit.
When big changes—or even small changes—are made to an organization’s operations, new hazards may arise, and a safety audit will highlight them for management to eliminate. Likewise, an audit following a change in regulations may reveal hazards that hadn’t previously been classified as such. And when a company hasn’t undergone an audit in a significant period of time, control systems may have weakened and lost efficacy. Performing an audit will likely catch these weaknesses in the organization’s system.
Who should conduct a health and safety audit?
Both internal and external audits present advantages and disadvantages. Both can be extremely useful; it’s about finding the right kind of audit to suit your company’s needs.
While an internal audit is a faster, more cost-effective method of discovering safety hazards in the workplace, an external audit provides an objective report that can be benchmarked against other companies and allow for the nomination of safety auditing awards.
The HSE requires internal audits to be conducted by a “competent person,” who, in their definition, “has sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities that allow them to assist you properly.” External audits are performed by private companies.
Today, health and safety audits are a recognized best practice in every industry. Organizations conduct audits to improve employee safety, evaluate the efficacy of health and safety systems and ensure compliance with regulations and standards. Using software can streamline the process, enabling organizations to avoid lengthy paper-based procedures.
To learn more about the importance of compliance with regulations, check out our eBook: What is an EHS Audit?
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