The Tick Is Not Enough - Why Safety Audits Fail

The Tick Is Not Enough - Why Safety Audits Fail

Published June 16, 2021

2 minute read

Safety audits do not make the world (or your workplace) a safer place. Many heath and safety audits are carried out every year – whether to BS or ISO standards, industry guidance or using criteria developed in-house. However, whilst an audit might give you ticks in boxes, if you don’t follow up on the actions that arise from audits, accidents will still happen.

A 1983 audit at Piper Alpha recommended that firefighting pumps, fed with water from the sea, could be left in automatic mode provided divers were not working within 5 meters of the intakes. The recommendation was not implemented. Five years later, there was an explosion. The pumps were manual and the staff couldn’t reach the controls to start them. 167 people died.

More recently, the crash on the New Jersey Transit system in September 2016, which killed one person and injured 114 more, had been preceded by an audit from the US Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The audit proposed a wide range of actions, including the need to provide onboard emergency tools and working fire extinguishers.  These were not available when the crash occurred.

It is not unusual to find audit reports printed on quality paper, expensively bound – and covered in dust at the back of a cupboard. When you turn to the action section of the audit, you will often find a table of recommended actions with the columns for responsibilities, deadlines, and sign-out empty.

Audits find the same problems year in and year out, and still, nothing is done. In the UK, the HSE is clear that this is not acceptable, reminding us we should “Take action on lessons learned, including from audit and inspection reports” whilst in Ireland the HSA tell us we need procedures for “reporting audit findings to those responsible to facilitate timely corrective action and improvement” and “a system for auditing and tracking the implementation of audit recommendations.”

Although you might want a paper copy of an audit for reference, this is the 21st Century, and all audits, risk assessments, reviews, and so on – all activities which can generate actions – should be recorded in a way that makes them easy to chase, check and report on.

Lots of organizations resort to complex interconnected spreadsheets, where actions from fire risk assessments, management walkabouts, and audits are cut from Word and PDF documents and pasted into columns; summary tables add up the numbers of actions closed out. This works - until someone else goes into a spreadsheet and changes something, or overwrites the numbers. You are not high-tech because you can produce a multi-coloured graph.

Once closed, a spreadsheet does nothing. You need an action tracking system that reminds you that action is needed, or where you have assigned an action to someone else, it reminds them about it, and lets you know how they’re getting on.

The other problem with audits or risk assessments is that whilst some actions can be signed off once – eg “fit a new fire door” or “provide a trolley for moving boxes” – most required some ongoing response. The fire doors need to be checked to make sure they are closed every day; staff need to be trained to use the trolley correctly, and the trolley should be inspected regularly. Closing out the action in the paper document – or the spreadsheet – without making sure that any repeated actions will be done will not make the workplace safer.

So wouldn’t it be great if you could sign out an action on a risk assessment or audit by referring to an inspection scheme you’ve set up? An inspection scheme that links equipment to relevant risk assessments, and inspection questions to relevant items of plant.

In order to help with this, EcoOnline has a very compatible Audit and Inspections Software that is your best defence in protecting yourself and your employees by giving you the control to strive for a zero-harm safety culture. To find out more information on our cloud-based software system, why not contact one of our product experts and Request A Demo.

Author Laura Fitzgerald

Laura Fitzgerald is a Content Marketing Manager with EcoOnline. She has been writing about health and safety topics since 2017, with a focus on the areas of improving employee safety engagement and EHS legislation.

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