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How to Conduct an Effective Safety Audit: The Ultimate Guide

Ensuring workplace safety is one of the most vital responsibilities of any employer. A healthy and safe work environment encourages productivity and efficiency, and workers who know that their employers care for their safety are motivated to work better. Employers and employees need to work together to create such a safe and healthy workplace by implementing an effective safety program, which would include a risk management process, regular safety meetings with employees, and more.

Of course, safety is dynamic and new safety issues may come up with even minor changes in operations. So it’s important to keep an eye on whether your workplace safety program is working as it’s supposed to. The best way to gauge the efficiency and effectiveness of your safety management system is through a safety audit. Conducting regular audits ensures regulatory compliance and also helps you identify and correct safety hazards that could potentially lead to serious workplace injuries or even fatalities.

In this article, we’ll outline what exactly a safety audit is, how to conduct one, and some best practices to follow.

What Are Safety Audits?

A safety audit is a systematic review to analyze the risks and hazards in the workplace and evaluate the effectiveness and reliability of the safety procedures set up in the organization. It can be performed by internal or external safety officers. The main objectives of a safety audit are to determine if the organization’s safety program is being implemented, to identify the gaps in that safety program, and to outline corrective actions to fix the gaps found.

A safety audit involves a rigorous observation of business operations, the work environment, the condition of equipment, the behavior of the workers, and other details to ensure that you have a good workplace safety plan in place, and that it is being implemented according to industry safety standards. Questions such as, “How do workers address safety concerns?”, “What controls are in place to mitigate safety hazards?”, and, “How regular and effective is the workplace safety training?” are addressed during a safety audit.

3 Types of Safety Audits

There are three types of safety audits, depending on who conducts them and what they are for. They include:

  • Compliance audits: In these audits, the company’s safety policies and rules are reviewed by an official safety auditor to ensure that the safety program complies with the standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Auditors evaluate the company’s safety plans, regulations, safety training programs, and recordkeeping. If you fail this audit, you could face hefty penalties from OSHA.
  • Program audits: These are typically more focused than compliance audits, evaluating your safety programs directly. These audits make a detailed analysis of the effectiveness of your safety regulations by interviewing employees and inspecting operations. They are useful to identify gaps and weaknesses in your safety program, enabling you to take corrective action quickly.
  • Management system audits: These audits can be considered a combination of compliance and program audits as they determine whether your safety program effectively conforms to both company policy and OSHA standards. They involve a comprehensive approach including compliance reviews, workplace observations, and worker interviews and evaluations to get an overall picture of your safety program.

The Steps of a Successful Safety Audit

The specific things that a safety audit investigates may vary depending on the type and size of business, but every audit has the following five basic steps:

Step 1: Plan for the Audit

Engineer conducting safety audits

The first step in any systematic process is planning. Before starting an audit, it’s important to inform all managers and supervisors being audited so that they can have all records and documents ready when the audit begins. To ensure continuity, it’s also a good idea to review past audit reports, especially corrective action recommendations, so that you can check if those recommendations have been implemented. 

It’s also important to determine who will perform the audit: external consultants or an internal audit team. If internal, your team should be diverse as that enables a broad perspective. Finally, you need to determine the scope of the audit, set objectives, and gather materials such as an audit checklist, past safety inspection reports, and regulatory documents to ensure that the objectives are met.

Step 2: Conduct the Audit

Once the audit has been planned, it’s time to actually conduct it. This involves:

  • Reviewing plans and policy documents: This is both to identify gaps in the written procedure itself and to compare the written process with actual operations
  • Talking to workers on the floor: Employees who operate equipment or work in areas being audited can provide insight not only into the current safety processes but also areas that could be handled differently.
  • Observing operations directly: In addition to talking to the experts (i.e., the workers themselves and their supervisors), auditors should also observe the processes being followed. This could help identify potential hazards and compliance issues. Depending on the type of audit, the auditors may use an audit checklist or write down qualitative observations.

Step 3: Prepare a Report

Once the audit is completed, team members compile their notes into a systematic report that summarizes their findings. The audit report mentions the audited areas, who conducted the audit, and a list of everyone interviewed. 

A good report is objective and concise and includes specific, detailed information about both positive as well as negative findings. 

It also outlines recommended actions to correct gaps and weaknesses found during the audit and indicates the relative priority and severity of the various safety issues and corrective actions listed.

Step 4: Implement Corrective and Preventive Actions

2 engineers conducting safety audits

The corrective actions recommended in an audit report need to be implemented. The organization’s internal team (mainly the managers and supervisors directly involved), with or without the help of the audit team, should set priorities based on the urgency and severity of each safety hazard found. 

The team would then assign specific tasks to mitigate the hazards and set follow-up and completion dates to ensure implementation. To make the audit report more effective and useful during future inspections, the team can devise a way to record completed actions on the audit report itself.

Step 5: Communicate the Results

Finally, it’s always good to keep your employees in the loop as it encourages a healthy safety culture in the workplace. Posting audit results on the company’s intranet pages or in common areas that all workers can access encourages transparency and allows employees to see what you’re doing to keep them safe. 

In addition, relevant stakeholders such as specific supervisors need to know the basic findings and recommendations, so it’s good to inform them separately as well.

Safety Audit Best Practices

For safety audits to be effective and valuable, it’s good to follow some general best practices while conducting them. Some of them are:

Conduct Safety Audits Regularly

It’s a generally accepted practice that safety audits are conducted about once a year. But this may lead to lax work practices that don’t follow safety management standards during the year, with compliance only seriously ensured closer to when the audit occurs. 

Instead, it might be more effective to have targeted safety audits scheduled throughout the year (e.g., every department audited on a rotating basis), followed by a comprehensive company-wide safety audit once a year. 

In addition, a safety audit should be conducted every time operations, regulations, working conditions, or your workforce changes. For example, if you start a new production line or open a new worksite with 50 new employees, it’s good to audit any safety issues that may arise due to the change.

Use Competent and Objective Auditors

Safety officers inspecting a construction site

A safety audit is only as good as the team who conducts it. So, whether you hire external safety professionals or use an internal auditing team, it’s always a good idea to choose carefully. If you’re hiring external consultants, do your research to ensure that they’re a good fit for what you require. If you’re keeping it in-house, create a cross-functional team that is well-versed in both the processes being audited and the current internal and regulatory safety standards.

Ensure Compliance

Even if your safety audit is not a compliance audit, it’s good to review your safety procedures for compliance. Ensure that your audit complies with OSHA standards by cross-checking your checklists and auditing procedure with local, state, and federal regulations and customizing your materials to include all the checks necessary for compliance.

Use the Right Materials for Your Audit

It’s a common practice to use safety audit checklists or templates to guide you through the audit and ensure that you don’t miss anything. Such templates can usually be downloaded for free from different online sources. But it’s always a good idea to check these general templates over and customize them to fit your specific use case. For example, if the template asks you to check for controls related to hazardous materials, but your operations don’t involve any such materials, such a point should probably be removed. On the other hand, if you have machinery that requires lockout procedures but there is no mention of this in the template, you may have to add it in.

Digitize Your Safety Audits to Ease Your Way

Conducting safety audits manually (using paper documentation or vast spreadsheets) can be time-consuming and unreliable. An online platform such as Pulpstream’s Auditing Solution can make your work much easier and more accurate. Such a platform can enable you to:

  • Record and store observations, interviews, and other evidence on any device (even working offline)
  • Integrate past inspection and audit reports, latest compliance requirements, and your company’s safety policy documents and use powerful analytical tools to identify gaps and provide sophisticated insights
  • Use customizable workflows, checklists, and forms to record everything online and share the information with the rest of the auditing team as well as other stakeholders automatically
  • Create, assign, and track corrective actions by generating tasks and automatically triggering actions for specific users

A single auditing platform would help cut down paperwork, remove the hassle of tedious spreadsheets, provide better insights, and make communications and action-assignment much smoother.

Unlock the power of digitization to make your auditing more efficient. Book a free demo with Pulpstream today!