There are many definitions of the term ‘audit’, although it may generally be described as a structured process of collecting independent information on the efficiency, effectiveness and reliability of the total risk management system and drawing up plans for corrective action.
Audit is required for any complex system, since, over time, all such systems are prone to deteriorate and it is difficult to detect this deterioration from within. However, this does not mean that audit is a substitute for other management system elements, as is pointed out in HSG65
Auditing is an essential element of a health & safety management system, and is no substitute for the other essential parts of the system. Organisations need systems to manage health and safety on a day-to-day basis. This cannot be achieved solely by periodic audit.
In practice, an audit is a check against a previously agreed set of standards and an assessment of the extent to which these standards are being met. It is often the case, however, that the essential step of establishing the standards against which to make an assessment, is often missed by organisations when it comes to safety and environmental auditing.
Auditors may conduct a health & safety audit without any in-house standards, however they may be able to audit with reference to:
Relevant legislation – this is the so-called legal compliance audit. Whilst it may indicate to an organisation whether or not they are complying with current legislation. Remember though since legislation itself only sets a minimum standard there still may be scope for improvement.
Good practice – here the standard against which the organisation is judged is industry good practice guidance, such as HSG 65, BS8800 or OHSAS 18001. Again, this type of auditing is only as good as the standard used.
However, it should be considered that in the purest form of audit, the organisation will have its own performance standards against which to be assessed, and these will of course encapsulate elements of both legislation, ACoPS, guidance and industry best practice.
Once the standards to be audited against have been established, it is then necessary to determine a procedure for the conduct of the audit.
Health and safety audits enable organisations to:
• Ensure H&S standards are being met
• Ensure legal compliance
• Measure its effectiveness in relation to safety
• Compare results with previous audits or audits in other similar environments
• Complete a systematic review of the safety culture within the organisation.
Reviews are audits completed internally they make judgements on safety performance and how decisions about H&S problems have been made. They can focus on the external findings from audits, internal findings from inspections as well as legislation. They aim to provide feedback on success and failures to ensure the safety management system is a continuous and not a one off process