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    What Is the Difference Between an Audit and an Inspection?

    28 July 2023 - Evotix


    Navigating the intricacies of health and safety can be overwhelming, given the multitude of processes and frequent updates to keep up with. It's understandable to occasionally confuse terms, especially when they share similarities, such as audits and inspections.

    While these terms are often used interchangeably, they are actually two separate processes. In this post, we'll walk through the key differences between audits and inspections to provide you with a better understanding.

    Inspections and audits: ISO standard definition

    Inspections and audits share a common objective: creating a safer workplace for employees. However, their approaches to achieving this goal diverge. To gain a deeper understanding, let's examine the definitions of inspections and audits provided by the ISO 9000:2015 standards.

    According to these standards, an inspection is defined as a "determination of conformity to specified requirements" (3.11.7). On the other hand, an audit is defined as "the systematic, independent, and documented process for obtaining objective evidence and evaluating it objectively to determine the extent to which audit criteria are fulfilled" (3.13.1).

    This highlights that while inspections assess the effectiveness of current safety processes in ensuring the health and safety of employees, audits delve into a more comprehensive evaluation of how an organization manages health and safety. To draw a comparison, you can think of audits as part of the "Check" phase in the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle, while inspections align with the "Do" phase.

    To create a solid workplace health and safety plan, it is crucial to understand the distinctions between audits and inspections. Let's explore the key differences:

    The key differences between audits and inspections:

    1. They’re carried out by different parties

    Inspections are typically conducted by a safety officer who assesses the workplace for potential hazards. Due to their familiarity with the environment, inspections are often performed by internal team members. Audits, however, are conducted by independent parties, either external or from a separate department.

    2. They have distinct areas of focus

    Inspections primarily focus on identifying safety hazards in the workplace, while audits concentrate on evaluating the processes adopted by an organization to prevent identified hazards and address worker safety issues.

    In simpler terms, inspections revolve around people, places and things while audits center on operations, processes and programs. Consequently, it is possible to audit a safety inspection program, but inspections cannot be performed on safety audits.

    For example, during an inspection in a manufacturing facility, the focus might be on identifying machine guarding deficiencies, fire hazards or ergonomic risks. In contrast, an audit would assess the effectiveness of the safety management system, training programs, incident reporting and corrective actions related to those identified hazards.

    3. They don’t occur at the same frequency

    Safety inspections require frequent occurrence to ensure proactive hazard identification and timely mitigation. They are invaluable for investigating the causes of accidents and maintaining incident records for senior leaders' reference.

    Audits, on the other hand, are more time-consuming and detailed. Depending on the scope, an audit can span from a few hours to several weeks. As a result, they are less frequent.

    While some organizations conduct annual audits, this approach may inadvertently lead to safety compliance becoming an isolated goal, with a flurry of activity preceding the audit and less emphasis on safety for the remainder of the year. Optimal practice involves scheduling audits throughout the year and reserving the last month for a comprehensive, in-depth audit.

    4. Audits tend to be slightly more complicated

    Inspections are relatively straightforward. The inspector receives a checklist and systematically evaluates the listed safety points. Audits are more complex and involve multiple team members from different areas of the business.

    Data from various sources, such as inspections, surveys, policies and documentation, is utilized by auditors to identify potential risks and areas for improvement. These steps help organizations gain insights into necessary changes to achieve their health and safety goals.

    Suppose an audit is conducted for an oil refinery, the audit team would examine a wide range of data, including inspection reports, incident records, training programs, maintenance logs and emergency response procedures. By leveraging this comprehensive information, auditors can identify systemic issues, suggest process improvements and ensure regulatory compliance.

    5. The outcome is never quite the same

    The outcomes of inspections and audits differ significantly. At the conclusion of an inspection, you receive a list of identified safety hazards or health risks. For instance, if an inspection reveals an uneven surface on a factory floor that increases the risk of slips or falls, the recommendation would be to flatten the surface to enhance worker safety.

    Audits, however, dive deeper; they seek to understand the root causes of identified issues and outline associated risks. Audits culminate in actionable recommendations for senior leaders to address the identified risks and make the workplace safer.

    Following an audit in a construction company, the report might highlight inadequate safety training, inconsistent enforcement of safety policies and insufficient communication of hazards. The recommendations would then address these underlying issues, suggesting initiatives like enhanced training programs, clearer communication channels and a stronger safety culture.

    Now that you understand the distinction between audits and inspections, you can recognize their unique roles as vital components of the overall safety management process.

    To learn more about conducting effective safety inspections, explore our blog: Workplace Safety: The Value of Workplace Inspections in the Process Industries.

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