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Safety Improvement Audits, Part II

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By: Pam Tompkins, CSP, CUSP, CUSA

In the previous Safety Improvement Audits article, a traditional Safety Compliance Audit was discussed, including its lack of focus on creating effective safety management systems. This article will continue to discuss the Comprehensive Safety Improvement Audit and some of the tools that can be used to better understand how to improve the safety process.

Comprehensive Improvement Audit

A comprehensive improvement audit will identify gaps within the entire safety process so an effective plan can be developed for future improvement. A comprehensive improvement audit identifies gaps between an organization’s existing state of safety and its desired state, simply stated: existing versus desired. The desired state is typically determined by regulatory and industry best practices related to safety management systems, training systems and written rules and procedures.

Audits are typically completed through a series of employee interviews, field observations and document reviews designed to uncover weaknesses within work processes that allow unsafe conditions and contribute to worker errors. Many audits include a safety perception survey and a common cause analysis. These tools can be used to identify specific safety culture issues or areas of vulnerability. Also, these tools can be used prior to an audit to identify specific focus areas that may need more attention during the auditing process. Let’s take a look at both of these tools in more depth.

Safety Perception Survey

In a previous article, we discussed the importance of using safety perception surveys to gain a true picture of worker’s perception of the safety process. Surveys are used to gather feedback from workers so management can gain a clearer understanding of actual working conditions and worker perceptions and opinions. Understanding how workers perceive safety can help identify specific focus areas to address during the improvement audit. A more in-depth discussion on safety perception surveys was featured in the December 2015 issue of Incident Prevention magazine.

Common Cause Analysis

A common cause analysis is used to identify if a single deficiency has caused multiple incidents. Stated another way, do multiple incidents have a common cause? A common cause analysis includes reviewing existing data to determine areas of focused improvement that would yield the greatest sustainable positive results. This process involves reviewing all available data on recent events, close calls, and survey results.   When analyzed as a whole, this type of data can be very accurate in pointing to those areas of greatest vulnerability.

For example, a performance assessment was conducted at a fossil power plant because they were experiencing a high number of incidents. Review of the event reports identified there were a high number of incidents of dropped loads from forklifts. To identify why there were so many dropped loads, interviews were conducted with people involved in the events and training records were reviewed. Talking to people is a critical part of this assessment. Interviews and document review revealed that all forklift operators had been trained, but that training did not include handling unwieldy or oddly shaped loads. Without the analysis, actions for improvement may very well have been to re-train all the fork lift operators with the same training they had already completed. After the analysis, the need to train forklift operators on handling unwieldy loads became self-evident. A common cause analysis is a critical element of safety improvement efforts.

In a future article, a better understanding of safety improvement audits will be discussed by reviewing some typical audit components beyond the use of safety perception surveys and common cause analysis.

Safety Improvement Audits, Part III
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