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Auditing Your Safety Management System for Continuous Improvement


Workplace safety should always be a top priority for any organization. However, even with robust safety programs and procedures in place, accidents can still happen. That is why it is crucial for companies to regularly audit their safety management systems to identify areas for improvement. A proper audit ensures all elements function as intended to protect employees. This article will explore how to structure an effective workplace safety management system audit for continuous safety enhancements.

Establishing Audit Objectives

The first step is defining clear objectives for the audit. Senior leadership and those responsible for managing safety must get together to discuss the goals. Common objectives may include ensuring compliance with internal safety policies and relevant regulations, identifying gaps or weaknesses in existing controls, verifying that critical risk controls are properly implemented, evaluating the effectiveness of safety training programs, determining if roles and responsibilities are well-defined, checking that incident investigations are thorough and learnings are applied, and measuring progress on action plans from previous audits.

Selecting an Audit Team

It is wise to assemble an audit team consisting of both internal and external members. Internal participants bring expertise to operational processes and programs. External auditors provide an objective outside perspective. Recommended roles include safety managers to assess technical safety elements, operations leaders to evaluate on-the-ground implementation, an HR representative to review training components, and an external safety consultant to ensure a full compliance evaluation. Diversity in experience and departments fosters a well-rounded assessment.

Developing the Audit Protocol

With objectives and team members determined the next major task involves creating an audit protocol or checklist. This document guides evaluators systematically through each area. Some elements to address include safety policies and objectives, risk identification processes, hazard reporting, and investigation procedures, inspection and monitoring activities, PPE requirements and provisions, equipment safety features, contractor management controls, training needs analysis and delivery methods, incident response and tracking systems, recordkeeping and documentation standards, safety resources, staffing, and budgets, management commitment indicators, communication channels for learnings, and action tracking from past audits.

Conducting Workplace Observations

No safety audit is complete without visually inspecting the real-world workplace environment and operations. Audit team members should spread out across relevant areas to anonymously observe equipment use and safe work behaviors, hazard controls such as guards and signage, PPE usage and condition, housekeeping and organization standards, emergency equipment placement and accessibility, participation in safety talks or meetings, and compliance with safety rules and procedures.

Compiling Audit Findings

At the conclusion, the audit team should collect all observations, interviews, and document notes to synthesize key findings. General categories may encompass compliance with standards and regulations, adequacy of existing safety controls, the functionality of individual programs and elements, areas of excellence and strength within the system, major non-compliances and significant risks discovered, and opportunities for systems or process improvements.

Developing an Action Plan

To complete the audit, participants must translate findings into a prioritized corrective action plan. Elements should include specific action items to remedy deficiencies or enhance capabilities, the department or person responsible for addressing each element, target completion dates with timelines tailored to priority level, implementation costs or resource needs for each correction, methods for verifying completion status for every action item, and a process to track results and document completed actions. High, medium, and low priority ratings ensure urgent problems receive prompt responses. The plan creates the roadmap for continuous upgrades to safety over time.

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