A systematic evaluation of your environment, health, and safety (EHS) program is not merely important to ensure compliance—it is an important facet of building a strong culture of safety. Don’t let consciousness of EHS slip, and don’t wait for incidents to happen before you check and inspect!
The objective of an EHS audit program is to preemptively discover conditions and work practices that could lead to job accidents and industrial injuries or illnesses, and then correct them. But for multisite organizations, a well-prepared and well-executed EHS audit and/or self-inspection program can make a substantial difference in not only accident prevention across the business, but in unifying and promoting a strong organizational safety culture.
EHS Audit Benefits
In addition to its direct accident prevention role, an effective EHS audit program:
Engages and empowers site-level EHS professionals to audit across all organizational facilities;
Maximizes EHS technical knowledge across facilities and enterprise networks;
Efficiently informs management of the overall EHS status of the organization;
Provides a consistent method of recording observations;
Proposes solutions for closing any gaps or issues observed during the audit process; and
Identifies best practices and model programs that can be shared throughout the business and that multiple sites and/or facilities can replicate in order to foster a positive safety culture across all employees.
To put it another way, EHS audit tours are like preventive maintenance. Just as every piece of equipment has the potential to deteriorate over time, so too can your culture of safety—therefore, it’s important to audit, reevaluate, and improve on a regular basis.
Building Your EHS Audit Program
While many of the benefits are obvious, the effort of building an effective audit program requires careful planning and diligent preparation. Your program may unfold naturally once you decide what you want to cover in your audits, and the following questions should be considered in laying plans for an EHS audit program for your organization:
What departments or operations will be covered in the audit tour?
What items, activities, procedures, and equipment will be checked?
On what sort of regular schedule will the audits be carried out?
What type of post-audit follow-up activities will be put in place to ensure that suggested improvements are, in fact, made?
Do you have a plan to secure buy-in from upper and lateral management (i.e., it’s understood that EHS issues will need to be corrected and that this will require human resources, management, and engineering expertise, plus potential financial investment)?
General vs. Specific
And, finally, a big question: Do you want audits to consist of a general inspection or a special type of inspection?
General inspections are considered comprehensive reviews of all safety and industrial health exposures in a given area, a complete facility, or even companywide.
Special inspections (sometimes called targeted inspections) deal with specific exposures in a given unit, section, plant, or across multiple facilities. Such an inspection might focus on electrical hazards, a review of OSHA 300 recordables and accompanying workers’ compensation reports, or perhaps checking for compliance with the OSHA hazard communication standard and then developing a compliance checklist in keeping with the principal elements of that standard.
Of course, this isn’t an either/or proposal! A good EHS audit program includes both special and general types of inspections. For example, one month a program could involve a complete plant tour for safety hazards, while the next month the inspection program could focus on PPE and how it is used on the job.
So, vary up your audits but ensure that the lines of communication remain open. Share successes and best practices both within your EHS team and with management, be sure to use the right tools, and the insights you gain will help you build a world-class culture of safety.