Safety Improvement Audits


By: Pam Tompkins, CSP, CUSP, CUSA

Audit?  Just the thought of participating in an audit brings frightening thoughts.  Think of an IRS audit, it can’t mean good news, right?  So why would an organization want to spend time, money and resources to audit when it could be painful?  To answer this question, organizations must develop a deeper understanding of using audits as an improvement tool rather than a way to monitor compliance.  A few questions to ask before embarking on a comprehensive safety improvement audit might include the following:

  • Is your organization prepared to view safety as an overall safety management process instead of a compliance goal?
  • Will your organization be prepared to see the “big picture” and develop strategic plans for future sustainability?

To better understand the importance of auditing for improvement, let’s review a traditional compliance audit.  A compliance audit identified a distribution underground crew not using insulating cover-up while working inside a single phase underground transformer.  The apparent cause of the violation was “failure to use appropriate insulating cover-up”, so management reviewed the violation and mandated the crew to follow the rules in the future.  Will the apparent cause of this violation be fixed in the future through talk and discipline?  Although rule compliance is extremely important, audits that focus solely on compliance may not identify major gaps that contribute to an ineffective safety system.  What happens if you don’t have the right people in place to support safety?  For example, workers may not have been properly trained and frontline leaders don’t know or understand how to apply the rules at a jobsite.  In the example above, the crew may not understand how to use insulating cover-up on underground applications, as they have only been trained for application of cover-up on overhead lines.

Compliance audits may really miss the mark because many times they are focused on the  workers who are not working safely rather than the system not working effectively.  Safety system deficiencies must be determined to better understand how to improve the safety process.  Successful improvement involves analyzing the complete safety process, not just what appears on the surface – the apparent cause. 

In future articles, we will explore comprehensive safety improvement audits in more detail, and discuss some of the tools which can be used to accomplish this important task.

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