Nobody at your facility has been hurt in more than a year. Weekly inspection forms are returned with no non-compliances. Are the facility’s safety plans really working that well or is it just luck? Conducting a safety audit is one of the proven ways to answer that question.
Audits evaluate the effectiveness of safety plans, double-check that processes are still accurate and determine if established procedures are being followed. Because they can be time-consuming, facilities don’t tend to perform audits frequently. But like preventative maintenance schedules for equipment, audits can help you catch and prevent injuries and fatalities.
Audits are often voluntary. When this is the case, facilities have the liberty to determine the scope of an audit as well as the frequency. Audits may also be required by regulations and standards or as part of an enforcement action from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
No matter what the reason is for conducting an audit, facilities that perform audits are better able to identify emerging safety issues before they become problems. An audit can also help serve as a catalyst for necessary changes to improve employee safety.
Not sure where to start with a safety audit? Follow these five steps and you’ll be on your way to catching hazards:
Step #1: Preparing for an Audit
Before starting, it is crucial to determine who will perform the audit and what the team will be auditing.
Some facilities hire external consultants that specialize in safety auditing. Others use an internal auditing team comprised of individuals from different areas of the company. When you’re using an internal auditing team, it’s imperative to choose a diverse team that includes production line workers, managers and individuals from other areas of the company. The more diverse the team, the broader the perspective will be. Where the production line employee will have in-depth knowledge of a procedure, someone from outside the area can be a fresh set of eyes to discover overlooked issues. No matter who is on the team, ensure that everyone has been trained in how to audit so they understand the necessary tasks to complete a successful audit.
Because you can audit anything, it is important to determine the scope and set objectives before beginning any audit. Reviewing applicable standards and codes that apply to the audited processes or areas can help the audit team members set objectives and add to their skill sets. The results of previous audits can be another source of information for the team to review, especially if an objective is to determine if the recommendations of a previous audit have been implemented and are working.
Step #2: Conduct the Audit
Audits help companies assess and improve their processes and plans, which should improve employee safety. Audits can also be used to track progress toward safety goals. As such, audits gauge both what is working well and what may need to be improved.
During the audit, written plans, procedures and other documents should be reviewed, which can help auditors to establish a baseline to compare the written process with actual action. Part of this review includes looking for strengths and weaknesses in the procedures — both in what is written down and what is happening on the floor.
Talking with employees who operate machinery or otherwise follow the procedures being audited provides additional insight. Because they use the process regularly, they should be able to fully explain not only how things operate, but also what works well and what could be done differently.
Some audit teams use checklists during audits. Others simply take notes on their observations. Because audits are specific to the facility and are designed to meet the objectives that the facility has established, it is up to your facility to determine which methods work best for capturing the information.
Step #3: Create an Audit Report and Recommended Actions
After the audit, team members should compile all notes into a report that summarizes findings. The review should include the audited areas, who conducted the audit and a list of interviewed persons.
A good audit report is objective and concise, including both positive and negative findings. It is also reflective of the findings and perspective of all team members. In addition to the findings, a complete audit report includes a list of recommended actions and areas for improvement, based on the audit findings.
Step #4: Set Corrective Action Priorities
Audits can reveal the need for both major corrective actions that need to happen immediately and minor actions that the company should consider for continual improvement. The list may be short or long. No matter what the list consists of, it is unlikely that you can address each issue right away.
The audit team should work with managers and supervisors to set priorities based on the level of hazard each finding presents. Items that pose the largest risk should receive priority over items with lower risk values.
After prioritizing the items, the team typically assigns tasks, as well as completion and review dates. The team should also outline how completed tasks should be recorded so items can be reviewed during future audits.
Step #5: Publish Audit Results
Employees like to know what’s going well and where improvements will happen. Posting audit results on company intranet pages, in common areas or other appropriate venues encourages transparency and lets workers see the status of safety in their facility.
Posting audit results also helps everyone understand any changes that may be necessary and how those changes will increase their personal safety. It also acknowledges the audit team, as well as the contributions of managers and employees who were part of the process. These acknowledgments can stimulate conversation and goodwill during future audits.
Conducting safety audits takes time and effort, but like all things that require time and effort, they provide worthwhile results that move a company’s safety efforts forward. Audits also trigger proactive safety changes that can help prevent employee injuries, illness and death.