The who, what, when, why and how of workplace health & safety auditing
Regular health & safety audits are critical for ensuring compliance with regulations and creating a safe working environment. They can feel like a chore without the right systems and approaches in place. However, if you see them as an opportunity to proactively improve your health & safety record, enhance your business reputation and instil stakeholder confidence, they can also be extremely rewarding.
A health & safety audit is an assessment of an organisation's activities, processes, policies, and systems in relation to the health & safety of its workers. Essentially, it serves two functions:
The HSE defines it as: "A collection of independent information on the efficiency, effectiveness and reliability of the total health & safety management system and drawing up plans for corrective action."
The scope of a health & safety audit process will depend on the size and type of your business and the industry you operate in. For example, it may cover the whole company or just one department. Regardless, it will usually encompass the following elements:
Every employer is legally obliged to have a health & safety policy in place. This should be in writing if there are five or more employees. Without audits, it is impossible to be sure that your policy is fit for purpose and, therefore, compliant.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance document HSG65 Successful Health and Safety Management states that organisations should have formal procedures in place for auditing and reporting on health & safety performance. In some industries, such as construction, regular audits may also be a condition of insurance coverage.
Regulatory compliance might be the main reason why businesses conduct audits, but they bring many other benefits, such as:
The HSE requires health & safety audits to be conducted by a 'competent person'. This means "someone with sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities that allow them to assist you properly."
Alternatively, you can enlist an external consultant. The consultant will visit your business and require access to your staff, data, systems, and policies. They will use their expertise to spot gaps and improvements. This approach could be more comprehensive and insightful, but it will cost more and be more disruptive.
On the other hand, an internal health & safety audit will likely be more cost-effective and allow you to retain control and oversight of the process. You can arrange audits to suit so they are less disruptive to business operations. Your data stays within your organisation and can be used as a management tool to drive improvement.
This will include checking standards and codes that apply.
The following basic questions provide a starting point but are not comprehensive. There are many more you'll need to answer in a complete health & safety audit, including industry-specific queries:
This involves assessing the risks to employees and how these are being managed. It should identify strengths and weaknesses and rank issues in priority order.
Create a report with recommended actions:
after the audit, the designated person should compile all notes into a report summarising observations. The report should include a list of recommended actions based on these findings.
Actions should be assigned with a completion and review date.
Sharing results helps secure buy-in and ensures everyone understands why changes may be necessary.
You might use health & safety software to digitalise the process, making the auditing process quicker and simpler. Often this type of app includes features such as checklists, report generation and action tracking.
There is no set timeframe for carrying out health & safety audits. However, it is generally recommended that they are conducted regularly. Many businesses, therefore, choose to conduct an audit at least once a year.
More frequent audits may be necessary if:
Health & safety audits are more than just a box-ticking exercise to ensure regulatory compliance. Approached correctly, they can be a valuable transformational tool for businesses of all sizes.