Five keys to a successful safety audit
June 16, 2009 | By Steve Dukich and Mike Duta
Awell-executed safety audit program can make a substantial difference in helping companies prevent accidents and injuries. Your company must understand and incorporate key characteristics of a successful audit program. Properly addressing these core areas can help the program deliver maximum impact with minimal risk, while adding value over time.
Key #1: Plan and prepare
To give your audit focus and purpose, identify your goals early by asking these questions:
• What departments or operations will the auditor cover?
• What items or activities will the auditor check?
• How often will you carry out inspections?
• How will you conduct the inspections?
• What follow-up activity will there be so corrections are made?
As with any well-functioning management system, an audit program must have written guidelines and procedures to describe how auditors should conduct the audit and what corrective action they should take. These procedures should define all audit activities, including planning the audit, on-site activities and follow-up.
The audit protocol is an important tool that guides the auditor through the audit process. An effective protocol defines the steps that an auditor needs to take to audit a particular process or machine, and provides guidance on what to look for and where it is located. Some companies use checklists or questionnaires as protocols, which provide a general framework for the areas and activities under review. It’s up to the auditor to probe deeper into these issues for a thorough evaluation of each area.
Key #2: Define the scope
Determine whether you want to conduct a general inspection or targeted inspection. General inspections are comprehensive reviews of all safety and industrial health exposures in a given area or complete factory. Targeted (or special) inspections deal with specific exposures or hazards in a given unit, section or plant. Good audit programs can include both types of inspections.
Identifying key risk criteria can be helpful in evaluating individual subject areas and assessing their levels of scrutiny. These criteria include:
• Change: History has shown that new or changed processes introduce increased risk. This can include changes to materials, processes, facilities, equipment, people and even changes in leadership.
• Performance indicators: These imply that past performance is a predictor of future performance.
• Regulation: In this case, evaluate risk based on whether the subject area is regulated by laws, standards or contractual requirements.
• Time: This considers how much time has elapsed since you last audited the subject.
Key #3: Involve the right people
The success of an audit relies heavily on involving the right people. Variables in the size and type of business, number and expertise of employees and special hazards and characteristics of each business will dictate which staff members you assign to the audit program. In many cases, you can use a team approach, mixing facility and line managers, supervisors, engineers, operators and staff from other departments. Safety program managers should critically review the audit team makeup for a balance between objectivity and familiarity.
Key #4: Follow through for corrective action
Conducting the audit and reporting the findings is the easy part. The difficulty often begins with following up on the findings and implementing corrective actions. This is where improvement takes place, changes happen, root causes are eliminated and controls and safeguards are put into place to prevent recurrence. Audits can be thoroughly planned and professionally conducted, but unless deficiencies are corrected, the effort is pointless.
Identified deficiencies must be assigned to a responsible person and corrected in a reasonable timeframe. In some cases, the deficiency represents a more endemic problem, requiring a more extensive corrective action plan. Follow-up audits must confirm that the corrective action was satisfactorily completed.
Key #5: Train and educate
Reducing potential risk requires appropriate instruction and training on safety procedures. All employees who may be exposed to the hazards of a machine or process should participate in these training programs, and these programs should be audited. While the company is responsible for implementing the training, each employee is ultimately responsible for applying the training and safety procedures to their work. The training agenda and programs must be customized to meet the specific needs of the facility.
Effective safety audits can be an important component of a successful safety program. To realize the full benefits of an audit program, it’s critical for you to have the right focus, involve the right people, allocate adequate resources and follow through on corrective actions. If you have a well-planned and well-executed audit strategy, you’ll forge a sustainable competitive advantage.
Steve Dukich is a senior application engineer with Rockwell Automation. Mike Duta is manager, P.E., Machine Safety Services with Rockwell Automation.
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