A Health & Safety Audit

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This is the final element in our health and safety management system, and it takes us to the point where we can begin a new cycle of improvement for the coming period. But before we do this we must make an assessment of our performance thus far so that we can identify our strengths and weaknesses, learn from them, and set targets for the future.

The review is an examination of the experiences gained whilst implementing the management system. This means that we have to provide mechanisms by which people can feed back these experiences, and these may take forms such as feedback sessions, written reports, and health and safety committee meetings. In short, the review takes the data and information gathered at the monitoring stage (the previous stage in the management system) and interprets it in order to decide on any necessary improvements.

In establishing exactly what it is that should be reviewed, we need to consider a range of issues including, policies and procedures, working methods, machinery and equipment, and risk control measures. The key question that a review should seek to answer is, how well did these things perform? Once we have the answer to this question we can decide how things might be improved. We rarely get things right first time, but unless we stop to assess our performance, we risk blundering on, using systems and hardware that do not achieve what we hoped they would. This is wasteful of time and money, and may well be dangerous!

Review requirements

The requirement to carry out a review should be written in to the health and safety policy, together with a clear statement of who will be responsible for it. Very senior managers should require those who have been given the delegated responsibility, to submit regular reports on their reviews; once a quarter for example. The nature and depth of each review should be governed by the level of risk present in the organisation. For example, high risk industries such as petro-chemical, gas, and construction should make provision for frequent, stringent documented reviews. All reviews must include details of any remedial action required, together with timescales for completion and checking. It should be made clear exactly who will ensure that this remedial action is carried out, and in this way the review is more likely to yield results.

Health and safety audit

A health and safety audit is a tool for reviewing performance, which concentrates on the effectiveness of the management system. It is therefore different from inspections and tours, which examine the operational everyday detail of working conditions. An audit generally checks performance against an objective standard such as ISO 18001 or the UK Health and Safety Executive’s HS(G)65. This series of articles has outlined the elements that should be present in a management system, and what should be done at each stage. An audit would examine each of these in turn in order to check how well they have been implemented, and set targets for the future. Audits are generally based on a numeric scoring system that provides a score for each system element, and for the system as a whole. It therefore becomes quite simple to see where the organisation’s strengths and weaknesses lie, and to set improvement targets for the next period.

The audit is a long-established, tried and tested tool that business has used for many years. Stock and financial audits for example, are universally accepted as essential activities for any company. Audits are therefore familiar to most managers, and using a similar approach, health and safety audits should not present them with too many problems. Audits should not be used to seek to establish blame, but to help foster a culture of continual improvement, so that business becomes more efficient and everyone involved has a safer and healthier experience of their work.

Moving on

Having completed a review, we have reached the end of the current management cycle, and we must now prepare for the next, beginning as always with implementing our stated policies and procedures. We then move stage by stage through each element of the system in the way that has been described in this series. The implementation of this process will help to make it clear both internally and externally, that the organisation regards health and safety as a serious issue. It will send a powerful message to staff, to the public, to enforcement agencies, and of course to potential clients, that the company is a well-run, efficient business that can be trusted. More and more contracts demand a demonstration of good health and safety management before they are let, and reviewing and auditing can provide evidence of this.

Article prepared by Mr Chris Hudson. Chris is a senior lecturer in occupational health and safety management at the University of Portsmouth in the UK. 

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