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Does Your PSM Auditor Have the Right Skills? Here’s What to Look For

August 23rd, 2018 by Dakota Software Staff

Does Your PSM Auditor Have the Right Skills? Here’s What to Look For

Every 3 years, you need to complete an audit of your process safety management (PSM) processes, and in order to conduct a thorough and effective compliance audit, a skilled auditor is a must. But what skills must a good PSM auditor have? The PSM standard’s only explicit requirement is that the audit be conducted by “at least one person knowledgeable in the process.” That’s not a lot to go on!

There are a lot of competency frameworks for auditors out there, but these frameworks are often specific to financial auditing or other types of auditing—not very helpful to those looking for a proper PSM audit. However, the Institute of Internal Auditors has created a competency framework for EHS auditors that could be especially useful to employers who are planning their next PSM compliance audit, and OSHA also provides useful PSM guidelines for compliance.

However, the busy EHS professional likes to keep things simple! Here’s our overview of the guidance, covering the basic competencies that make for a skillful EHS auditor, including:

  • General skills
  • Functional competencies
  • Technical competencies

General Skills

Whether they’re auditing your balance sheet or your maintenance procedures, your auditor will do a better job if he or she has mastered the basics first. For example, does your auditor have the proper interpersonal and communication skills to succeed? These are crucial, as the auditor will not only have to gather accurate information from many different people but also work effectively as a part of a team and accurately present their findings in writing as well as in person. Auditors must be able to prepare written reports that clearly summarize issues, evidence, and alternatives—and they should be ready to summarize and communicate these things verbally as well.

A strong rapport with individuals at all levels of the organization is necessary for success—a PSM audit is seldom a one-person job, so auditors need to be able to effectively assign and oversee a team effort.

Some other basic auditing skills your PSM audit team must have include:

  • Professional ethics. Your auditor must understand and adhere to established professional codes of ethics, which require fundamental integrity, objectivity, and confidentiality.
  • Objectivity. An auditor should avoid conflicts of interest and cultivate an unbiased and impartial approach to evaluations.
  • Reasoning and analytical skills. Strong reasoning skills enable auditors to use information gathered during an audit to make sound decisions in a timely manner and to develop appropriate recommendations and possible alternative solutions to problems.
  • Diligence. An auditor should not make decisions based on incomplete data when better information is readily available.
  • Flexibility. An inflexible approach cannot account for changing circumstances, so auditors need to be adaptable.

The last general skill that we will touch on (one that is often overlooked) is intuition. Although auditors should make every reasonable effort to obtain the information needed for decision making, they may also need to make judgment calls in the absence of complete information, based on their experience and observations.

Functional Competencies

In addition to the broadly applicable ethics, communication, and reasoning skills mentioned above, there are functional skills that a proper PSM auditor must have. These qualities are a bit more specific and may require more targeted training for your auditing team.

For example, important functional competencies for a PSM auditor are the necessary interviewing and mentoring skills. But wait, you may think, aren’t those just the basic communication skills we talked about earlier? Not exactly—these are much more specific skill sets than basic interpersonal skills. Auditors need to be able to obtain relevant information from interviews and evaluate that information for accuracy, and the lead auditor must be able to pass along his or her skills to others and provide feedback to other members of the audit team. When conducting a PSM audit, is your team asking the right questions, and does it know how to effectively analyze the answers and, if necessary, take corrective action?

Other function-based skill sets that must be present on a good auditing team include:

  • Information technology skills. A lot of information needed to assess compliance with PSM and other regulations is found in databases and electronic systems; an auditor should be able to use these, as well as using other information technology to generate recommendations and reports and complete other audit tasks.
  • Conflict resolution skills. Another specific subset of “interpersonal skills,” conflict resolution is an essential skill for anyone in a leadership position. PSM auditors must sometimes deliver bad news or get different departments to work together to solve problems—all of which is easier with strong conflict resolution skills.
  • Powers of observation. These are skills that come from practice, and they enable an auditor to compare the situation in the facility to what the records say, and to what the standards require.
  • Time management. Setting goals, establishing priorities, and completing audits in a timely manner are essential to a successful audit.
  • Documentation. In order to demonstrate compliance—or noncompliance—an auditor must clearly document the audit process and findings.
  • Legal protections. Auditors must be able to identify and protect sensitive information that is used or uncovered during an audit.

Technical Competencies

Process safety management is complex—and, naturally, so are the accompanying audits. When planning for your next triennial audit, it’s critical that the right technical skills are present on your team of PSM auditors. While their technical skills will need to be custom-aligned with the needs of your specific facilities, certain technical expertise is required in almost all cases. Do you have at least one team member with a sufficient background in process engineering and design? How about maintenance, instrumentation, and computer controls? Emergency preparedness? Process chemistry? Before ensuring that your team has the widely-applicable technical skills we discuss below, ensure that they have the specific knowledge needed to assess the safety of your facility!

The Institute of Internal Auditors divides EHS technical competencies into generally-applicable skills and skills that apply to specific assignments. Their recommended generally-applicable competencies include:

  • Internal management controls. This is an organization-specific skill set that an auditor needs in order to make sure that the information needed to detect and prevent compliance issues is up to date and accurate.
  • Statistics and probability. Basic statistics and probability knowledgeis essential for determining how many samples are needed to provide a representative sample and to understand the various qualitative limits that apply to EHS issues in the workplace.
  • Risk assessment. Process safety management is not just about regulatory compliance; it is also about risk management, and risk management begins with risk assessment. Auditors need to have a solid grasp of risk assessment terms and procedures.
  • Regulatory knowledge. In any EHS area, and in PSM especially, it is vital for an auditor to have a broad knowledge of the applicable regulations and how they apply to the workplace.
  • Sustainability and corporate social responsibility. An EHS auditor must understand how EHS activities fit into broader corporate goals, and PSM is just one of the many regulations that can have an impact on risk and long-term sustainability.

More specific technical skills are required for certain types of audits. An auditor conducting a PSM audit will benefit from careful study and application of:

  • Chemical hazards. The effective management of highly hazardous chemicals regulated under the process safety standards demands knowledge of the chemicals in a covered process and their hazards.
  • Health and safety knowledge. In order to evaluate the safety of a covered process, knowledge of the process hazards, the associated risks, and the controls in place to minimize those risks is required.
  • Process operations. An overall understanding of the processes in the workplace, particularly the covered processes, is needed in order to conduct a risk assessment.

Software Supplementing Skills

The skills that we have discussed here are numerous—and it may seem like it’s more than a single, individual, or even a full auditing team, can reliably handle. Even if your team of auditors has all the right skills, their efforts may go to waste without the right tools. How can you increase the likelihood of a successful, compliant, and efficient audit? EHS software can be just the thing you need to boost your efforts.

This is where Process Safety Management solutions like those from Dakota Software come in. Dakota's PSM checklist, specifically, within the Auditor platform, follows the published OSHA guidelines/checklist for performing these internal audits. Dakota's tools, and other similiar platforms help organizations establish and maintain regulatory compliance while managing changes to their internal policies and processes, and a flexible platform allows users to build a shared knowledge base of hazards and controls. All of these items are accomplished while tracking corrective and preventive actions, training requirements, and other PSM-related activities. It can help ease compliance needs, ensure accuracy of data, and supplement the skills of your PSM auditing team.

Photo credit: seksan mongkhonkhamsao / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Image

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