In the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)‘s report titled “Health and safety at work: Summary statistics for Great Britain 2019”, 581,000 non-fatal injuries were logged. 138,000 of these were severe enough to put workers out of action for 7 days or more, and 147 workers died.
Those figures are only rough estimates though, as almost half of work-related injuries may not be reported.
The obvious solution to this would be to have health and safety guidelines in place, but that doesn’t always work as intended. Instructions and warnings can be missed, practices could be outdated, or new equipment could remain unaccounted for in your procedures.
This is where your safety audit comes in.
In this post I’ll show you:
- What a safety audit is
- Why safety audits matter
- The difference between internal and external audits
- How to perform a safety audit (with a free safety audit template!)
Let’s dive right in.
What is a safety audit?
A safety audit (or rather, a health and safety audit) is a comprehensive look at your company’s health and safety policies, processes and systems.
The ultimate goal is to make sure that your health and safety measures are performing as intended, and that they’re actually protecting your workforce.
There’s no point in spending time, effort, and money carrying out and maintaining systems and processes that don’t work. You’d be wasting resources for no return on your investment, and the presence of bad systems would make you more likely to miss the real problems.
After all, if you’re following all of your safety processes then there shouldn’t be a problem, right?
What safety audits cover
One of the most important things to understand about a safety audit is what the procedure covers, and what it does not. Safety audits, for example, are not the same thing as a safety inspection, and so cannot be used as a replacement for them.
Safety inspections aim to assess a workplace or area for any environmental hazards posed, potentially dangerous equipment, work practices that pose a risk, and whether safety measures (barriers, warning signs, etc) have been put in place. This can include gathering air, water, and chemical samples to test for hazardous materials.
Safety audits are typically performed annually and look at the systems responsible for creating your current working environment. You’re not looking for every exposed wire or bad practice – you’re trying to find out why those things happen in the first place.
Not only that, but you’re examining all of these safety elements and judging them against an official standard, such as OHSAS 18001, HSG65 or ISO 45001, legal standards to avoid landing in hot water if an accident occurs, and your own company’s standards.
This typically means examining the safety procedures you have, storage guidelines for hazardous materials, floor layouts of dangerous equipment, and so on. A more comprehensive list of safety audit elements will be provided in the “how to perform a safety audit” section of this article.
Why safety audits matter
While it’s easy to get frustrated with overly intrusive versions of them, health and safety policies are a legal requirement for good reason.
Without some kind of standard procedure to follow when encountering risks, the health of your workforce would rest entirely on the knowledge, experience, and actions of every single employee.
So, you have processes to follow when using certain equipment to prevent anyone getting injured. Storage instructions are provided for chemicals that could otherwise react to certain containers or conditions and cause a leak.
Everyone is given the same instructions to follow whether they’ve been with your company for a month or ten years. Safety is not a compromise.
… How can you be sure that your safety systems actually work and cover every contingency?
That’s where safety audits come in.
Safety audit benefit #1: Reduce the risk of injury and death
Having an audit performed on your safety systems, policies and processes once per year is the only way to know that your efforts aren’t going to waste or missing something vital. Think of it as a safety net for the thing that is a legal requirement – your health and safety policy.
Regular audits will also make sure that your safety measures remain up-to-date with any new developments in your company and industry as a whole. For example, if new equipment was purchase in the last year, the audit could pick up that new policies regarding its use haven’t been laid out.
Plus, fewer injuries mean happier employees and less time spent on sick leave instead of working as per usual. It may sound cynical when phrased like that, but it’s in everybody’s interest that your health and safety is up to scratch.
Safety audit benefit #2: Protect your company from legal repercussions
No matter how much you prepare your workspaces, train your employees, put up warnings and pay close attention to your equipment and materials, injuries are going to happen.
People make mistakes – we’re only human.
However, by having a regular safety audit you can prove that no fault can be found in the way your company handled things. In other words, you protect yourself from the legal repercussions of any incident that happens on-site.
This isn’t just a case of protecting you from disgruntled employees who didn’t follow your safety precautions and were injured as a result either. If your health and safety policies or systems are found to be out of date or unsatisfactory following an incident, governmental agencies such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK can take direct action against you.
“When the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) brings prosecutions for health and safety breaches, they invariably cite failures that an audit would have highlighted.”Phoenix Health & Safety, What is a health and safety audit, and why have one?
Safety audit benefit #3: Motivate your workforce
Many years ago, my science teacher wanted to demonstrate the effects of acids and alkalis to a class of bored students.
The teacher was brilliant at his job and extremely intelligent (he often taught his subjects off by heart instead of relying on textbooks), but unfortunately for us his memory wasn’t the best. His worst habit was that of using the fume cupboard to safely house reactions that created dangerous gases, but forgetting to turn on the extractor fan.
This meant that he performed a reaction to create chlorine gas (a highly poisonous substance which was used as a chemical weapon in WWI) and almost killed our entire class.
My point is, none of us wanted to go back into one of his lessons again after that, and the same is true of a dangerous workplace.
Why would you choose to work for a company which doesn’t care enough about the safety of their workers to make sure that everything is being performed up to standard? How do you know that everyone is sufficiently trained, and all dangerous equipment and materials are stored correctly?
Take care of your workforce, however, and they will be far more motivated to give it their all.
Safety audit benefit #4: Cultivate a healthy, safe company culture
Company culture is what you make it to be, and requires you to build the pillars of what you wish to see throughout your entire company. High expectations and severe punishments produce an inherently hostile and selfish culture where your employees look out for themselves.
If, on the other hand, you put your employees first and prioritize their safety, you’ll be taking the first step towards a company culture of cooperation and camaraderie.
Think of it like this; what message do you send to your workers if you don’t have a regular safety audit?
You’re telling them that their safety and wellbeing aren’t primary concerns. This affects motivation and productivity, and how everyone sees each other too – if the company as a whole doesn’t care about you, why should your manager or colleagues?
Don’t tell your team that you don’t care about their safety. Prevent the seeds of a toxic company culture by having regular safety audits.
“A toxic company culture will erode an organization by paralyzing its workforce, diminishing its productivity and stifling creativity and innovation… Employees aren’t afraid to jump ship when faced with a toxic workplace—and it’s usually your high performers who will go first.”Brigette Hyacinth, Toxic work cultures make Best People Quit!
Internal vs external safety audits
There are two methods for having a safety audit performed on your company. You can perform it yourself (internally) or hire another company to come in and carry it out for you (externally).
While many of the pros and cons are fairly self-evident, it’s worth examining both options to see which suits the needs of your company better.
Internal audits require you to have a dedicated, trained auditor on your team. They’ll likely already be familiar with many of your systems and practices, so they should be able to perform the audit faster than an outside source would. Since they’re also already hired (likely as a permanent part of your HR department with other duties), their services will probably be cheaper than hiring an external party.
On the downside, an internal auditor will likely be balancing the safety audit with their other duties, so it’s more likely to have delays due to conflicting schedules and priorities. Not only that, but shareholders and tax authorities likely won’t accept an internal audit – you’ll have to have one from an outside source anyway.
External auditors, meanwhile, have no such conflict of interest. Their entire purpose for being there is to carry out the survey, so delays shouldn’t happen. Due to their experience working in multiple industries, they should already be familiar with the standards that you’re expected to meet (ISO 45001, etc). Most importantly, external audits provide any who require it an impartial assessment of your company’s safety protocols.
External audits are, however, more expensive due to their very nature; you’re hiring a team to complete a project for you and paying for their expertise after all. The main downside is that external auditors will be unfamiliar with your team’s processes, policies, and procedures. This means that the audit will take longer to carry out, as the auditor will first need to get to grips with your company before they can assess the effectiveness of your health and safety measures.
If you have the resources to perform a semi-regular internal safety audit then it’s definitely worth doing to consistently avoid issues. However, it’s wise to have an external audit (or at least an external assessment) done once per year to provide your company with an impartial result.
How to perform a safety audit
While health and safety audits aren’t a legal requirement, it’s advisable to perform them at least once every year to make sure that everything is performing as intended and expected.
But how exactly do you carry out a safety audit if you’re not going to get an external party in to do it for you?
How to conduct a safety audit
The key to performing an effective safety audit is to keep the goal in mind of performing an objective study of your processes, policies, and systems.
To that end, it’s best to take one or two core members from various teams across the company to make up the auditing team. That way you’ll have a group that’s familiar with almost every aspect of your company and how it works in practice, but also have people who aren’t connected to a particular area at all to keep things objective.
Once formed, the auditing group needs to systematically address every health and safety element of the business and compare it to you industry’s standards for the fields. In particular they need to be asking questions such as:
- Are there measures for identifying, assessing, preventing and controlling hazardous areas, materials, and equipment?
- Do these measures meet your industry and regulatory requirements?
- How often are safety checks performed? Is this an acceptable amount compared to the industry standard?
- Are all managers informed of areas that require improvement (and do they take action on the feedback)?
- Is there a system for tracking whether your health and safety measures are being carried out?
- How do you know those tracking elements are accurate?
- How often do employees ignore your health and safety measures?
- Could they be enforced further or made more obvious?
- Is there a position or program that ensures employees are fully and effectively trained for their positions and the tasks they’ll be carrying out?
Once the site has been assessed and any flaws identified, all that’s left to do is to prioritize the issues from the most to least important, then pass on the assessment to the appropriate management figure.
The easy way to conduct a safety audit
The best way to perform any task that needs doing more than once is to document it in a checklist. This holds especially true for safety audits.
By listing all of the steps that you need to complete to conduct an effective audit, you can ensure that it’s performed correctly and to the highest standard every single time, no matter how much experience your assigned auditing team has.
Documenting your process, however, can take a lot of time and effort. That’s why we here at FAT FINGER have documented it for you.
This template is completely free to use – all you need to do is log into (or sign up for) your FAT FINGER account and click above to add it to your library!
This template is fully built and ready-to-use, but you can also freely edit this SMS Safety Audit template to suit your own organization’s needs. For example, you can give your employees access to let them run the process and perform an audit without you ever having to touch the process. Add specific instructions or pictures to show what they’re meant to assess at each stage, and so on.
For more information on all of FAT FINGER’s powerful process management features, check out the video below.
So what are you waiting for? Stop letting your health and safety fall through the cracks and get your free template today!