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When it comes to checking a workplace’s WHS performance, audits are one of the key tools we have to achieve this. Audits can be undertaken by internal employees or by an external provider. There are benefits to either. In-house audits can be less expensive, be undertaken at times that may be more suitable for the business and focus on areas that are key. External third-party audits may be more rigorous and stand up ethically and morally, but also have the advantage of having a fresh set of eyes and perspective looking at the business.

WHS Auditing

WHS Auditing

When it comes to checking a workplace’s WHS performance, audits are one of the key tools we have to achieve this. Audits can be undertaken by internal employees or by an external provider. There are benefits to either. In-house audits can be less expensive, be undertaken at times that may be more suitable for the business and focus on areas that are key. External third-party audits may be more rigorous and stand up ethically and morally, but also have the advantage of having a fresh set of eyes and perspective looking at the business.

Why is a Health and Safety Audit Important?

Health and safety audits are important for assessing the performance of the business relative to the goals that have been set out in the business’ safety management system. Along the way, gaps may also be identified. If done correct, an action plan can be created at the end which can help the business take steps to improve your safety in the workplace. They can also help:
Help identify whether the health and safety management system meet the standard it is based upon, and thus complying with the relevant legislation;
Assess whether the objectives set out in the health and safety policy are being achieved;
Track whether the relevant performance criteria as set out in safety plan are being met;
Monitor whether the results of previous audits are being implemented within the organisation; and
Keep the business on the path toward continual improvement.

What Types of Safety Audits are There?

Audits can focus on as wide area as the entire WHS Management System, or as narrow a focus as a particular task. However, generally speaking the most common would include:
Entire WHS Management system audits (horizontal audit); and
Audits of one aspect of the management system, e.g., chemical management, or incident management (vertical audit).

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WHS Management System Audits

An audit of the WHS management system would be termed a “horizontal” audit. A horizontal audit is when you audit one system and how it works and is integrated across the entire business. This will be from high level policies and procedures all the way through to forms and take 5 risk assessments that are in place to manage health and safety on site.

WHS Management system audits may be assessed against the following standards:

AS/NZS 4801 – Occupational Health and Safety Management System
ISO 45001 – Occupational Health and Safety
OHSAS 18001 – Occupational Health and Safety Management System
It should be noted that ISO45001 is now the becoming the preferred standard over AS/NZS 4801 for many businesses, especially those that operate globally.

Single aspect audits

Audits that look at a single aspect of the entire WHS management system would be termed “vertical” audits. A vertical audit is when you audit all the parts of the system that centre around one aspect, e.g., chemical management. This would include policies and procedures from a high level, down to the use of chemicals within the workplace.

Single aspect audits may include areas such as:

Electrical safety;
Emergency procedures;
Dust management;
Noise management;
Manual handling;
Traffic management; and
Employee assistance program.

There are six simple steps that need to be taken when undertaking an audit. They include:

Identify Areas to Audit and Set the Criteria/Tool
Decide How Often to Audit
Conduct the Audit
Document the Results
Report the Findings
Create an Audit Action Plan

Moving Forward

The action plan becomes the key part of the outcome of the audit process. The action a plan will be formulated based on the findings. Common findings for individual audit items included

Non-compliance – these may be broken down into major and minor non-compliance. These typically require urgent action and should be attended to with a matter or urgency.

Observation – these may include things that may lead to a non-compliance however they haven’t done so as yet. It could also be the subjective opinion of the auditor. The business can choose whether they want to make any changes to address these or not, i.e., typically not compulsory to meet their obligations.

Opportunity for Improvement – these may include things that are being done, however they could be done another way that would result in a better outcome.

How we can help?

The most important actions a business can take are the first step to decide to take action, and the step of following up that action. Taking the first step to undertake an audit of your business to improve processes is great, but what matters most is the continued follow up action to continually improve the business’ health and safety performance.

Nobody likes non-compliances, but not knowing about them and burying your head in the sand is worse, especially when the business can be held legally liable for any potential failing.

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