How to conduct a safety audit of your workplace
If you’re a safety officer or responsible for work health and safety at your workplace, the safety and wellbeing of your co-workers is an ongoing concern. All businesses walk the never-ending tightrope between cost efficiency and workplace safety; however, risks for workers within certain industries are higher than others due to additional hazards within the operating environment.
According to Safe Work Australia, in 2018 there were 144 work-related fatalities. The most common causes were vehicle collision (31%), being hit by moving objects (17%), falls from height (13%) and being hit by falling objects (10%). Those most at risk were machinery operators/drivers, labourers, and technicians and trades workers.
So how can you mitigate or prevent most occupational injuries and fatalities? By regularly conducting workplace safety audits and sharing the results with those who can devise and implement solutions for addressing any identified issues.
What’s a safety audit?
A safety audit is a structured, methodical assessment and evaluation of how workplace activities affect safety and health. They serve to continuously improve an organisation’s occupational health and safety procedures by evaluating compliance and performance procedures.
An audit differs from an inspection in that they assess overall compliance with regulations and policies. They also tend to be performed by an impartial third party.
If your focus is on ensuring that adequate resources are available to manage workplace health and safety, and that those resources are being used efficiently and effectively, then you should consider conducting safety audits on a quarterly or half-yearly basis.
But most importantly, make sure it’s a format and of a length that will be useful to your workplace. If you end up with a 200-page dossier, it’s unlikely your hard work will deliver meaningful change given no-one will have the time to read it. There’s nothing wrong with being concise or focused on a specific area.
Here’s five steps to conducting a proper safety audit:
Step 1: Preparation
There’s no point conducting an audit if it’s not supported by key stakeholders, including managers and supervisors, so your first step should be to inform them of the audit, accompanied by a request that the necessary documents, records and procedures will be readily available when you begin. You’ll also want to leave yourself time to review all past audits and corrective action recommendations — if any exist — to understand what action has been taken in the past. If no action has been taken, you should consider implementing the recommendations from that audit first and postponing yours as a follow-up in 6–12 months.
Other preparation would include determining the scope of the audit — the what, why, who — and the dates for conducting and presenting your findings back to the key stakeholders (preferably within the same month to minimise lag, particularly if something pressing is found). If possible, review the legal and training requirements for the specific departments or areas you plan to audit as this may identify some gaps in communication that are having a flow-on effect.
Step 2: Undertake the audit
Many hands make light work so try to turn this into a team task and assign tasks to participants with clearly defined expectations and information requirements. You may find it easier to do this as you conduct a general area walk-through.
A good audit structure should review employee knowledge, program administration (staff implementation and management), federal/state requirements (hazard identification, hazard control, record keeping and employee training), record keeping and equipment and materials. Also, try to interview employees from multiple facets of the business to understand their experience and insights.
Step 3: Review your findings
Once your audit is complete you’ll have a lot of information that needs collating — preferably in a logical and clean format. The structure is up to you but a good place to start could be People, Procedures, Problems, Plans. People: Are employee requirements being met? Is new and ongoing employee training effective? Procedures: Does your business currently meet/exceed regulatory and best industry practice requirements? Is there documented proof of compliance? Problems: What if anything was found? What is the level of urgency? What is the perceived outcome of fixing the problem/s? Plans: What are the actionable outcomes? Is there a cost or time investment? Who needs to be involved and when?
In step 4 you’ll expand further on the Plans section, but it’s good to have some topline suggestions as a starting point. It will assist you to maintain momentum, and your proactivity will be appreciated.
Step 4: Make recommendations
Once you’ve reviewed your findings, it’s time to present them to key stakeholders. Depending on the urgency of perceived problems, and the business investment required to address them, you may choose to split this up. You may also choose to delegate solution development and implementation to relevant departments, which will ensure everyone feels involved.
Make sure you prioritise actions with a suggested timeline, provide financial estimates for implementation where possible and identify who’s responsible for what, including who needs to sign off.
Step 5: Act
As part of your implementation plan, make sure you induct employees into new processes or procedures, and communicate to them what’s happening and why. Also, clearly document corrective actions and ensure these records will be easily found for the next audit, should you not be the one conducting it.
A safety audit also gives you a chance to review your contracts with third-party suppliers. In an ever-changing market, you may find there’s better equipment you could be purchasing which could address some of the challenges your audit identifies. Ask key suppliers for their induction material (if any). It will save you having to recreate the wheel, and often the training is better coming from the experts on that equipment, as they live and breathe it every day.
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