When it comes to checking a workplace’s WHS performance, audits are one of the key tools we have to achieve this. WHS management system 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 since they adhere to auditing guidelines, but also have the advantage of having a fresh set of eyes and perspective looking at the business.
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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:
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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:
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:
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
Audits that look at a single aspect of the entire WHS management system would be termed “vertical” audits. A vertical WHS management system 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:
There are six simple steps that need to be taken when undertaking an audit. They include:
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.
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.