A health and safety audit is a process that systematically measures the organization’s management of its health and safety programme against a series of specific and attainable standards, to determine if there is compliance.
The audit will examine the effectiveness of the health and safety management system, examining documentation from the Health and Safety Policy to other documents, e.g. workplace organisation and arrangements, risk assessments, permits to work, contractors’ regulations and employee health and safety information. It should also examine health and safety management systems, management and employee attitudes to health and safety, prevention and control procedures and training arrangements.
The audit system should be transparent — and it should be communicated to all staff (including directors) that it is not meant to identify faults or shortcomings in either individuals or departmental/functional areas. It should be undertaken in a professional, efficient and effective manner. Lessons learnt and continual improvement should be the message given.
Audits are most effective where there is a H&S management system in place. If the system in place is known to be weak or lacking in areas, then a safety survey would be a more appropriate tool, as it focuses on the weak areas of the system until they are resolved.
The Purpose Of The Audit
The purpose of the audit is to examine the system and its implementation to determine if and where the system could be failing. The auditor’s role should be focused on identifying problems rather than providing solutions. A system may fail because of:
- poorly written procedures or processes (be these electronic or hard copy)
- inadequate scope of procedures or processes
- inadequate training
- abuse of procedures or agreed processes
- poor recording, i.e. incorrect documentation of activities or misuse of electronic devices when recording activities e.g.where PDAs are used or onscreen records of process stages are maintained.
- management failings, e.g. lack of safety commitment, ineffective supervision or not supplying resources
- lack of appropriate equipment and facilities, e.g. suitable storage containment for hazardous materials.
The audit will reveal gaps and identify opportunities for improvement, so the result will entail both findings and recommendations. The emphasis of the audit remains on producing findings, rather than identifying recommendations to resolve these.
The final audit report will provide guidance for improvements that are suggested, along with any actions for follow up. The audit itself involves understanding the management systems, assessing strengths and weaknesses, gathering evidence, then evaluating and prioritising findings and finally reporting findings to management.
Interviews should be kept short and to the point. Auditors should ask straightforward questions and appropriate to the seniority of the person being interviewed.
There should be a discussions amongst appropriate Directors, managers and safety representatives as to the type of questions that should be asked during audits. This will keep the audit process both relevant and open to the organisation’s work and culture. What might be a routine question in one setting could be seen as irrelevant in another. “Tick box” approaches to auditing often will have a limiting effect on the outcome.
A record should be made of the questions asked and the answers given. Observations will depend on the type of organisation and activities being audited.
What Happens Next?
Once the audit is concluded a final report needs to be agreed with management. It may well be that a draft or provisional report is provided to allow the site audited to respond to any issues or potential inaccuracies before the finalized report is issued.
After the report is issued this needs to lead to an action plan to ensure the necessary follow up actions are taken. Any recommendations must be meaningful, with realistic time-scales for corrective action and named persons to implement them. H&S audits are a means of demonstrating an organization’s compliance with its declared objectives, the law and, where applicable, best practice standards.
If the outcome is to have any impact, all actions should be formally submitted in the first instance to senior management and either accepted or rejected. This will ensure that the audit findings have credibility and standing with those who are subject to its requirements. If the report is rejected in part or whole, the reasoning should be clearly communicated.
A formal means of monitoring the implementation of actions needs to also be considered to ensure the audit and its findings are not left on the shelf without any of the actions being taken … until just before the next audit.
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