Most companies conduct periodic worksite safety audits. This process is part of the traditional landscape of a comprehensive health and safety plan. At regular intervals someone within the organization sets out to critically observe in an effort to identify and rectify hazards. Most organizations have some checklist set aside for this task and may even have a periodic frequency determined. But has your organization defined the why, when and how of safety audits?
Why Do We Do Safety Audits?
Safety is often driven by compliance – either to a regulation or a company policy. Certainly compliance is a factor and one that is often developed with a specific purpose in mind. OSHA has a clear imperative that employers are required to provide their employees with a place of employment that "is free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees." Worksite inspections serve as the vehicle to record hazards and document abatement. As the saying goes – if it’s not documented, it didn’t happen. With that in mind, can companies meet the regulatory requirement by simply walking about every once in awhile and fix what is found? While this may satisfy a basic requirement, checking a box does not necessarily offer assurance that the workplace is free of recognizable hazards and meets the spirit and intent of the purpose the regulation is trying to express.
Conducting workplace safety inspections can serve a greater purpose than simply meeting a compliance requirement. In fact, worksite safety inspections can be a vital part of your injury prevention efforts if done well. They can help assure workers that the workplace is safe and help the company demonstrate they care about identifying and rectifying safety issues in a meaningful way.
Too often safety programs have elements that are done because “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or worse, ‘”because we have to”. Build into your program elements a noble purpose and people will do them because they want to. Your audits and observations allow the continuous improvement cycle to keep going, advancing your safety program each time and ultimately helping to make sure that the entire workforce goes home safely at the end of the day.
When Should Safety Audits Happen?
Safety inspection frequency will depend on several factors:
- The frequency of planned formal inspections detailed by a regulatory agency
- Guidelines from a safety management system (e.g. OSHA VPP, OHSAS 18001)
- Number, size, and potential risk of different work operations or equipment
- Team building/employee involvement/safety committee activities
- Number of shifts; the activity of each shift may vary
- The number of man hours worked by the team
- Introduction of new processes, equipment, or workers
- Historical patterns of at-risk activity
- Past incident/near-miss records
There are some basic guidelines that can set initial expectations, but it should vary based on the circumstances. Ideally, the goal is to verify that good interaction is occurring in an effort to facilitate safety conversations and redirect efforts based on prioritized needs relative to the data collected. Learn more about the frequency of inspections in this blog post.
How Do I Do Safety Audits?
The OSHA published a detailed system for routinely scheduled self-inspections of the workplace in their Challenge program that included the following elements:
- Includes a tool or checklist
- An inspection schedule
- Train members of the inspection team(s)
- Record of findings
- Responsibility for abatement
- Tracking of identified hazards for timely correction
Make sure the methods you use to collect safety inspection data are working as intended. An effective data collection plan should follow these four simple rules to ensure the effectiveness of your safety programs.
While the Why, When, and How of Safety audits is important, this is only the beginning. Once data has been collected, the next step is to review the data to determine what it means. A data use plan is necessary to ensure that data is reviewed at a frequent and periodic basis and actions are taken to drive improvement. Remember, improvement from this process relies on the frequency and quality of the feedback the observations generate.
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