Is a Safety Audit Really Necessary for a Good Safety Culture?

How do you react when you know someone is observing you? Maybe your boss is conducting a formal or informal evaluation. Or perhaps the cute guy or gal you are interested in is looking your way. What do you do?

Well, we have multiple reactions to being observed. For instance, if we want to impress, we put our best foot forward and demonstrate how well we can carry out the task.

Read more: Do Safety Incentive Programs Really Work? »

In this sense, observation makes you your best self. In the world of safety, this applies on a grander scale: safety audits. But are they really necessary for a good safety culture?

A Helping Hand Developing a Safety Program

Can workplaces develop effective safety programs only viewed by employees? Absolutely. Many organizations do an excellent job of protecting their employees without external assistance.

However, organizations do benefit from implementing programs with outside help. A second pair of eyes can look at the program and offer constructive criticism for improvement.

There are two ways to do this: an internal audit or a certification from a recognized safety body. Most importantly, both meet performance standards which are then independently verified.

How to Audit Your Safety Program

One method is developing your own safety audit criteria and gauging program effectiveness compared to an internal standard. Often, large companies with multiple locations use this strategy, auditing each location with the developed standards.

For instance, one company I am familiar with developed a set of 15 core EHS standards based on the ASSP/AIHA Z-10 Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems. These core standards were written for application at multiple locations across North America and Europe.

Each standard contained two basic components - administrative and execution.

The administrative component focused on documentation. For example, the standard for controlling hazardous energy – lockout/tagout (LOTO) – required a written LOTO program.

Firstly, written programs are necessary to meet the requirements from the regulatory body with jurisdiction over the facility, for example, the OSHA regulation for facilities in the USA.

The next step is determining how well the facility executes their program, in other words, are they doing what they should be? The execution of these evaluations require a field assessment. For example, do employees understand the LOTO program? Are they following the LOTO procedure? Is equipment correctly locked out?

In this example, the company opted to audit each facility every two years with an internal audit team, recruited from the EHS departments. Those auditors then assembled and conducted the facility audit on a rotating schedule.

Why Should You Have a Safety Audit Program?

Audit programs have multiple benefits.

If done correctly, a safety audit assists each facility in developing, improving and maintaining an effective EHS program. In turn, this supports efforts in providing a safe workplace.

Moreover, companies benefit from outside eyes looking at programs from an administrative and execution stand-point. A fresh pair of eyes pick up things others are blinded to.

Furthermore, audit team members grow familiar with company audit programs and ensure their own facilities complied with requirements.

Lastly, EHS employees network with each other and share best practices benefiting all company locations.

Programs meeting safety certifications

Let’s shift gears and consider the developing programs meeting certifications of established criteria.

Firstly, the OSHA Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) program is for USA facilities covered by OSHA.

Essentially, the VPP certification program follows the patterns covered earlier:

  1. A set of requirements established by OSHA
  2. Participating facilities demonstrate meeting those requirements
  3. OSHA audit team determines whether the facility has met the requirements
  4. Submit annual updates
  5. Re-evaulation audits conducted every three to five years

Currently, around 2,200 US facilities participate in the VPP program. A number, when considering the amount of US manufacturing facilities, that represents the difficulty in obtaining certification and the commitment level for that program.

The second certification program to consider, ISO 45001, has more international appeal. As the name implies, the International Organization for Standards occupational health and safety management system seamlessly crosses territorial boundaries.

International companies aspiring for ISO 45001 certification recognize the one common system for their world-wide facilities. Also, companies certified with ISO 9001 and 14001 benefit from familiarity with the ISO system and requirements.

For ISO 45001 certification the basics remain the same:

  1. A set of requirements developed by an international committee
  2. Facilities seeking certification successfully demonstrate their commitment to the requirements
  3. A consulting firm recognized as auditors for ISO 45001 certification conducts the safety audit

Conclusion

Let’s look at our original question: Can facilities run effective EHS programs without an internal or external safety audit?

Of course, and thousands do so.

However, companies participating in safety audits generally exhibit a higher level of commitment to health and safety, from top management to the shop floor. Also, the audit review process ensures the programs meet a best in class criteria.

The bottom line? Safety audits make companies take a proactive approach to their health and safety efforts. In summary, a proactive EHS approach decreases workplace risks.

Keep reading: The Danger of Routine and Complacency in the Workplace »  

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Bill Caldwell has 32 years of experience in the chemical manufacturing industry, and his role has been dedicated to health and safety for the last eighteen. Bill holds a bachelor’s degree from Mississippi State University and a Master’s Degree in Occupational Safety and Health from Columbia Southern. His current position is Senior Safety Specialist with Tronox, LLC, a major manufacturer of titanium dioxide pigment. When Bill is not working he is an avid swimmer and triathlete.