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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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