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July 31, 2003
Voluntary safety self-audits and inspections

Systematic evaluation of your company’s workplace and safety practices is an important part of your safety plan. Don't wait for accidents to happen before you inspect your facility or assess your safety program. Voluntary safety self-audits and inspections are critical tools in achieving environment, health, and safety (EHS) compliance and can make a substantial difference in accident prevention, as well as help you be prepared for unannounced Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspections. While they’re often used interchangeably, audits and inspections are actually two different processes designed to address two different aspects of workplace safety management.

The biggest difference between the two is what they focus on. Safety inspections focus on the hazards in your work environment, as well as hazard communication. In contrast, safety audits focus on the processes your organization uses to address these hazards and protect workers.

Before conducting a voluntary safety self-audit or inspection, keep in mind that you must be fully prepared to correct any unsafe conditions and work practices you discover, including setting aside money and the manpower to do the job. If you conduct an audit or inspection, discover a serious hazard, and then do nothing about it, you will expose yourself (and your employees) to a host of negative consequences.

Safety audit

A safety audit evaluates safety programs and practices within an organization to determine whether your company is compliant with current safety regulations, as well as identify weaknesses in your safety programs. Employers conducting an audit should:

  • Measure and collect information about a safety program’s reliability and effectiveness.
  • Look at whether a safety program meets the company’s stated goals.
  • Examine safety training and response efforts.

Conducting an audit

Many companies choose to hire third-party safety consultants to perform the audit without bias, while other organizations use their own employees. If using existing employees, create a safety audit team that includes three to five people from various departments, and ensure employees do not evaluate their own safety program and processes. Those on the safety audit team should be trained on the current OSHA safety standards.

A critical component in conducting safety audits is an audit checklist. OSHA offers a Safety and Health Program Audit Tool template for you to use and customize to your business. Always be specific when documenting your findings, and keep your records in a secure location, either physically or digitally.

Audit frequency

Companies must establish the frequency that is appropriate for the business. Your organization can perform audits monthly, quarterly, twice a year, or once a year. How often you audit depends on the size of your organization, the complexity of your processes, and the degree of risk associated with the activities carried out in the operation of your business.

OSHA's policy on voluntary self-audits

OSHA developed a policy describing the agency's treatment of voluntary employer self-audits that assess workplace safety and health conditions, including compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The policy provides that the agency will not routinely request self-audit reports at the initiation of an inspection and will not use self-audit reports as a means of identifying hazards upon which to focus during an inspection.

Where a voluntary self-audit identifies a hazardous condition that violates a regulation, and the employer has corrected the condition before initiating an inspection (or a related accident, illness, or injury that triggers the OSHA inspection) and has taken appropriate steps to prevent the recurrence of the condition, OSHA will refrain from issuing a citation, even if the condition existed within the 6-month period during which the agency is authorized to issue citations.

Where a voluntary self-audit identifies a hazardous condition, and the employer promptly undertakes appropriate measures to correct the violative condition and to provide interim employee protection but has not completely corrected the violative condition when an OSHA inspection occurs, the agency will treat the audit report as evidence of good faith and not as evidence of a willful violation.

Safety inspection

A safety inspection is the formalized process of documenting safety hazards and unsafe practices in your workplace. The type of inspection varies by industry, but generally, the inspection should:

  • Determine whether safeguards are in place.
  • Examine whether the equipment presents any hazards.
  • Observe work practices to identify unsafe actions.

Before conducting a safety inspection, you need to determine what type—or types—of inspection you intend to do. The types can be classified into three different categories:

  • Planned—This type of inspection is scheduled in advance with the deliberate intention of detecting unsafe conditions or procedures.
  • Continuous or informal—This type of inspection is meant to complement the planned inspection but is typically done on a more frequent basis, often daily and part of a work process or routine.
  • Unplanned—This type of inspection is unanticipated and typically not done on a routine basis.

Conducting an inspection

An internal safety inspection is typically conducted by a certified safety inspector on your safety team who is familiar with the workplace and the department(s) of operation he or she is inspecting. What you choose to inspect depends on the processes, procedures, and equipment used at your business and the general condition of your facility.

A valuable tool used to conduct a safety inspection is an inspection checklist. BLR® offers an Inspection Checklist template for you to use and customize to your business. Always be specific when documenting your findings, and keep your records in a secure location, either physically or digitally.

Inspection frequency

OSHA does require that certain inspections be done at a specified frequency (e.g., forklifts must be inspected at least daily before use under 29 CFR 1910.178). In other standards, OSHA uses a performance-based approach instead of mandating a frequency. This gives employers some flexibility to establish a schedule given the circumstances and variables in their workplace.

If not specifically required by OSHA, workplace inspections can be conducted at any interval—before use, daily, weekly, or monthly. Some safety professionals make it standard policy to inspect all their facilities and equipment at least annually, with more frequent inspections for high-hazard or production areas. Others do complete inspections more frequently than once a year, depending on the risks the company faces.

Ideally, you should inspect your workplace often enough so that hazards are identified and corrected in a timely manner. Initially, you might want to consider performing a complete facility inspection to assess the relative risks at your company and to come up with an adequate schedule.

Decision to audit or inspect

Whether you need a safety audit or safety inspection depends on the issue you’re trying to address. Do you need to focus on hazards or the processes to prevent hazards? It’s good practice to conduct both audits and inspections because each plays a critical role in improving safety in the workplace.

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