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Conducting A Safety Audit: Your Complete Guide

12 min read
Last Updated on 19 June, 2024

Maintaining a safe work environment is a crucial responsibility for any organization. However, with rapidly evolving technologies, processes, and workforces, new safety risks can arise anytime.

According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2.7 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses were reported in the private industry in 2021. The costs of these incidents are steep, with businesses losing up to 4% of annual revenue due to workplace injuries.

This highlights the need for vigilant assessment and proactive mitigation of safety hazards in the workplace. Therefore, one effective approach of ensuring workplace safety is by conducting regular audits.

In this blog post, we will dive into what safety audits are, their benefits, the steps involved, and some best practices to follow.

What are Safety Audits?

what are safety audits?

A safety audit is a systematic, documented evaluation of an organization's health and safety management system. It is a proactive and preventative approach to identifying and mitigating potential hazards before they can cause accidents or injuries.

The aim of safety audits is to proactively identify workplace hazards, assess compliance with regulations and company policies, and evaluate the effectiveness of control measures.

Unlike routine safety inspections that focus on a specific area or procedure, safety audits take a comprehensive view of the workplace safety culture.

It must be noted that safety audits differ from safety inspections in their scope and frequency:

Difference between safety audit and inspection

Audits also dig deeper through extensive data gathering, including interviews, record reviews, surveys, and observation of actual practices. Comprehensive insights from safety audits allow organizations to make strategic decisions and investments to enhance workplace safety.

The key objectives of safety audits are:

  • Identifying hazards and risks that may have been overlooked in day-to-day operations.
  • Ensuring compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and other regulatory requirements.
  • Reviewing existing safety programs and processes for adequacy and effectiveness.
  • Highlighting areas for improvement in safety practices and hazard control.
  • Promoting an organizational culture of safety and accountability.

Benefits of Conducting Safety Audits

Benefits of safety audits

Regular safety audits provide immense value in managing risks and ensuring the well-being of employees. Here are some of the key benefits of making safety audits a consistent practice:

1. Reduced Workplace Injuries

This is the most direct benefit. By identifying and addressing hazards, safety audits can prevent incidents before they occur, which leads to fewer illnesses, injuries, and fatalities.

A 2012 study found that audits carried out by California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) reduced injuries without causing job losses. The study revealed a 9.4% decrease in injury claims and an average savings of 26% in workers' compensation costs.

2. Improved Compliance

Safety audits help ensure you’re adhering to relevant safety regulations and standards. This reduces the risk of legal consequences, fines, and even closures due to non-compliance.

3. Lowered Costs

Preventing accidents through audits lowers expenses associated with property damage, fines, medical care, higher insurance premiums, and legal claims.

From 2001 to 2006, Anthony Forest Products - a forest products company saved over $1 million in workers' compensation and other expenses by investing around $50,000 in safety enhancements and employee training.

4. Improved Employee Morale

A safe and secure work environment boosts employee morale and satisfaction. Employees feel valued and cared for, leading to increased engagement, productivity, and loyalty.

5. Enhanced Public Image

Demonstrating a proactive approach to safety through regular audits reflects positively on an organization's public image. This can attract and retain talent, build trust with customers and partners, and contribute to a positive brand reputation.

3 Main Types of Safety Audits

Types of Safety Audits

There are several ways to categorize safety audits, but three of the most common types are:

1. Compliance Audits

These audits assess how well an organization adheres to applicable safety laws, regulations, and standards. They're often conducted by external auditors who have expertise in the relevant regulations.

Compliance audits are essential for ensuring that your organization is meeting its legal obligations and minimizing the risk of fines or penalties.

2. Program Audits

These audits evaluate the effectiveness of your organization's safety programs, policies, and procedures. They typically involve:

  • reviewing documentation,
  • observing work practices, and
  • interviewing employees.

Program audits help you identify areas where your safety programs can be improved to better protect workers and prevent accidents.

3. Management System Audits

These audits assess the overall effectiveness of your organization's safety management system. They look at how all the different elements of your safety program work together to create a safe work environment.

This type of audit is typically conducted by experienced auditors who have a deep understanding of safety management systems. The specific type of safety audit that is right for the organization will depend on individual needs and risk profile. However, all three types of audits can play an important role in helping employers create a safer and more compliant workplace.

How to Conduct a Workplace Safety Audit?

Ensuring a safe work environment is paramount for any organization. Regularly conducting workplace safety audits is crucial for identifying threats, assessing compliance with regulations, and implementing corrective measures.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you conduct an effective workplace safety audit:

1. Assemble the Right Audit Team

Assembling the right audit team is a crucial part of condutcing workplace safety audit

An effective audit team should include diverse perspectives. Include your most experienced safety officers who understand Osha regulations inside out. Also involve representatives from different departments like operations, maintenance, engineering, and so on. Their on-ground perspectives can prove to be invaluable.

Every few years, consider getting external auditors as well. An outsider’s objective view helps uncover blind spots your internal team may have. More people mean more expertise and a wider range of observations.

For example, an audit team could include the safety coordinator, maintenance supervisor, warehouse manager, machine operators, and a third-party safety consultant.

2. Prepare and Conduct a Preliminary Risk Assessment

Reviewing the organization's safety practices and creating a checklist may benefit the audit team. This checklist can reveal areas that may need closer examination. In addition, the company will need to know how the location's current operations compare with its future goals.

Prepare and Conduct a Preliminary Risk Assessment

Before the audit, conduct a preliminary risk assessment to identify areas that require prompt attention. A risk assessment involves reviewing incident reports, analyzing near-miss incidents, and revisiting past audit findings.

Here are some examples of items to consider:

  • Raw materials
  • Personal protection equipment
  • Regulations for vehicles and drivers
  • Electrical problems
  • Fire dangers
  • Tools and machines
  • Processes of repair and inspection
  • Stairs and lifts
  • Storage rooms

Preparing for safety audits may also entail distributing duties to certain team members. For example, two team members can collect samples while others conduct interviews.

The audit team can identify existing risks. This helps them focus their efforts on the most important areas and increases the efficacy of the audit process.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) evaluated over 39,000 organizations in one year. They labeled "programmed" to over 17,000 inspections, meaning random safety audits.

3. Conduct On-site Inspections

Conduct in-depth on-site inspections to evaluate the physical conditions of the workplace. Examine the whole facility, paying special attention to potential risks, equipment, machinery, storage spaces, ventilation systems, and emergency exits.

When inspecting the workplace, consider the following factors:

  • Lighting: Examine the lighting in the room to see if it allows people to see their surroundings and operate machinery securely. Check the potency of high-intensity discharge lamps in a warehouse. Inspect the fixtures to determine if enough lightbulbs are present.

  • Equipment placement: Examine equipment location to see if the company has appropriately stored and made them accessible. You can also inspect the storage of various tools, such as ladders, to ensure they are not obstructing routes.

Suggested Read: Workplace Ergonomics: Benefits And Ways To Improve It

  • Signage: Look for signs that warn people about hazardous materials and instruct how to use machinery. Employees may have received considerable training, but posting signs throughout the workplace boosts safety standards. This also shows the organization's commitment to safety.

Any flaws, noncompliance issues, or safety concerns should be documented. Employees should be involved in the inspection process because they can contribute useful insights and firsthand knowledge of workplace safety practices.

4. Ensure Safety Documentation

Benefits-01--4--1

An automatic failure in most audits is a lack of proper safety documentation! First, ensure you have updated permits, licenses, and registrations for all relevant equipment and materials.

Then, carefully examine logs and records for inspections, safety training, incident investigations, and more. Check if supervisors are consistently documenting safety observations or behavior reports. Review a sample of these inputs to gauge accuracy.

Look for gaps, outdated information, or missing records that could put you in non-compliance. Well-maintained documentation demonstrates your serious commitment to safety.

5. Interview Employees Across All Levels

Interview Employees Across All Levels for an effective safety audit procedure

Interacting with people provides priceless insights that observations alone cannot. Discuss safety topics with individual employees and administer anonymous surveys. Then, gauge their opinions, knowledge levels, and comfort, raising concerns. Try to learn about whether they have encountered any hazards so far and what plan of action they are familiar with.

Questions can include:

  • Do you know the evacuation plan and your role?
  • Have you received adequate job-specific training?
  • What could be done to improve safety here?
  • Do you know how to report unsafe conditions?

Their responses will reveal your workplace’s true safety culture.

6. Consolidate Findings into a Comprehensive Report

Evaluate the Audit Report

Now it’s time to make sense of all the data gathered through inspections, interviews, document reviews, and walkthroughs. Methodically analyze the results against your defined scope and applicable regulations.

Prioritize the most significant hazards that require immediate corrective actions. But don’t ignore smaller issues – they could escalate into bigger risks if not addressed. Outline practical recommendations, whether re-designing processes, upgrading equipment, or improving training approaches.
Document everything in a concise report that serves as a baseline for your safety program. Share key findings transparently with department heads and leaders. Their insights are crucial for implementing preventive measures successfully.

7. Drive Timely and Sustainable Corrective Actions

A safety audit is effective only if it triggers workplace improvements and preventive actions. Assign specific corrective actions to relevant teams and hold them accountable for completion within strict deadlines.

But don’t simply assign and forget! As the safety leader, you must closely follow up to ensure actions are taken as advised. Conduct briefings to reiterate the impact and importance of each measure. Celebrate successes to build motivation.

Identify opportunities to make audit findings more visible through displays, reports, and more. Leverage technology for efficiently tracking actions, automating notifications, and real-time monitoring of safety metrics.

Safety Audit for Remote and Hybrid Workplaces

The rise of remote and hybrid work models necessitates a paradigm shift in ensuring employee safety and well-being. Traditional workplace safety audits, designed for physical workspaces, often struggle to address the unique challenges and considerations of these non-traditional environments.

Here are strategies to conduct effective safety audits for remote and hybrid workplaces:

1. Assessing Ergonomic Risks Remotely

With remote workers, auditors cannot directly observe workstation setups. Instead, pictures, videos, or virtual tours can be used to inspect home office ergonomics. Moreover, providing safety audit checklists for employees to self-assess their own posture, computer position, lighting, and other factors can also be done.

Experts recommend the usage of adjustable chairs, monitor mounts, keyboards, and other solutions to mitigate issues.

2. Evaluating Psychosocial Factors

Evaluate Psychosocial Factors while conducting safety audit for remnote and hybrid workplaces

Remote work can increase psychosocial hazards like -

  • Social Isolation and Loneliness: Lack of in-person interaction with colleagues can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, impacting mental health and motivation.
  • Work-life balance challenges: Blurry lines between work and personal life can lead to overwork, stress, and burnout.
  • Communication and collaboration difficulties: Remote communication can be fraught with challenges, leading to misunderstandings, decreased team cohesion, and decreased productivity.
  • Lack of sense of belonging and connection: Difficulty feeling connected to the organization and colleagues can negatively impact morale and engagement.

Strategies to address psychosocial hazards could involve:

  • Employee Surveys: Conduct confidential surveys to gauge employee well-being and identify potential concerns related to isolation, stress, workload management, and work-life balance.
  • Integrating Mental Health Resources: Assess the availability of EAP services and mental health resources. Encourage two-way communication channels for employees to voice concerns.
  • Encourage regular communication and team building: Foster regular communication channels, team-building activities (both virtual and in-person when possible), and opportunities for social interaction to combat isolation and build connections.
  • Promoting healthy work practices: Encourage employees to set boundaries between work and personal life, take breaks, and utilize flexible work arrangements to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Evaluate work hours, time off, and employee engagement policies.

3. Bending the Rules of Inspection

Just like checking ergonomics, perform virtual inspections using photos, videos, or live streams for other factors such as checking fire exits, trip hazards, and more. Schedule video calls to interview employees.

For hybrid models, conduct both onsite and virtual inspections. Reassure staff that these inspections are for their safety, not to monitor them.

4. Gauge Participation and Awareness

Measure employee participation in safety initiatives like training and inspections. Engagements may be lower remotely. But try strategizing smartly to boost engagement through shorter e-trainings, online safety meetings, and anonymous feedback channels.

The innovative solutions outlined above enable organizations to uphold consistent safety oversight despite disruptions from new work models.

Employee health remains the priority, even as operations transform. Health is wealth, after all.

Best Practices for Maximum Impact

Below are few of the best practices that companies can inculcate in their safety audit procedures for maxixum impact:

1. Conduct Regular Audits for Consistent Safety

Conduct Regular Audits for Consistent Safety

Rather than limiting safety assessments to an annual occurrence, adopt a proactive approach with more frequent inspections. Rotate through various corporate departments periodically to ensure comprehensive coverage. For instance, scheduling quarterly audits for each major department ensures ongoing attention to safety protocols and prevents complacency.

2. Ensure Compliance with Applicable Regulations

Align audit procedures with relevant laws, regulations, and industry standards to maintain regulatory compliance. Customize audit materials and checklists based on requirements from regulatory bodies such as OSHA and EPA. This ensures that audits not only uphold internal policies but also meet external regulatory standards.

3. Root Cause Analysis for Effective Solutions

Instead of merely documenting safety hazards, try uncovering their underlying causes. Look beyond surface-level issues to identify systemic problems such as inadequate training or equipment deficiencies.

For example, repeated incidents of data breaches may prompt a deeper examination of cybersecurity protocols and employee training programs.

4. Prioritize and Track Corrective Actions

Classify audit findings based on severity and urgency to prioritize corrective actions. Address high-risk hazards promptly and monitor action plans closely to ensure timely completion. Utilize tools like automated reminders and audit management software to streamline task management and ensure accountability.

5. Utilize Competent and Objective Auditors

Utilize Competent and Objective Auditors for effective safety audit practices

Ensure that safety audits are qualified professionals with the necessary expertise and impartiality. This ensures the credibility and reliability of audit findings, enhancing their effectiveness in driving organizational safety improvements.

6. Use the Appropriate Materials while Conducting the Audit

Always utilize the right materials, including checklists, protocols, and documentation templates, tailored to the specific needs and requirements of the audit. You can find templates online for free, but it’s important to tweak them to fit your needs.

For instance, if the template includes sections on chemical handling safety procedures, but your corporate offices primarily deal with administrative tasks, removing or adapting those sections accordingly is prudent. By fine-tuning these tools, you ensure that your safety audits are precisely tailored to address the unique risks and requirements of your environment, fostering a safer workplace of all employees.

Conclusion

Finally, completing a successful safety audit at your business is critical for ensuring a safe workplace. They serve as your organization’s proactive shield against potential hazards, safeguarding your most valuable asset – your employees.

By routinely identifying and mitigating risks, you create a secure and healthy work environment, minimizing the likelihood of accidents, injuries and, illnesses. This protects your workforce and delivers a tangible return on investment by reducing associated costs and upholding positive employee morale.

Remember, prevention reigns supreme. Don’t wait for unfortunate incidents to underscore the crucial role of safety. Take proactive measures and prioritize risk prevention by implementing regular health and safety audits. Whether you choose to leverage the expertise of qualified in-house personnel or seek guidance from external safety professionals, the well-being of your employees is paramount.

Frequently Asked Questions

FAQ

Q.1 What do safety audits not include?

Safety audits are intended to assess the efficiency of various programs; they do not replace regular facility inspections. Supervisors should conduct weekly facility safety inspections for dangers and precautions. And the management should complete monthly safety inspections.

Q.2 What are the big four of safety audits?

A safety audit should answer four essential questions. The people or teams assigned to conduct the audits should use a fact-finding strategy to obtain data. These auditors should know about the company's program and the numerous local, state, and federal regulations.

All safety audit comments, recommendations, and corrective actions should address the following four issues:

  1. Is the program comprehensive regarding regulatory and best industry practice requirements?
  2. Are the program's prerequisites being met?
  3. Is there evidence of compliance?
  4. How effective is staff training - can they use specified safe behaviors?

Q.3 Who performs safety audits?

Safety audits can be performed by internal safety officers or external auditors. Internal audits are beneficial for maintaining awareness, while external audits provide an objective viewpoint.

This blog was written by Diana Barman and Bijaya Lakshmi Sarma, who work as marketing and wellness experts for Vantage Fit. For any queries, reach out to editor@vantagecircle.com

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