The province’s Certificate of Recognition holders faithfully conduct a health and safety audit every year like clockwork. This voluntary audit process is undertaken to maintain employers’ COR status and their eligibility for the accompanying WCB rebates. But even those employers for whom an annual review has become routine may not be aware of some basic facts about health and safety audits….
1. All employers should be regularly auditing their OHS systems. Just like the other systems in place to ensure the efficient and effective workings of your business, the safety management system requires regular audits to proactively identify system deficiencies. Operational changes, staffing turnover, missed refreshers, or the introduction of a new chemical or piece of equipment - any of these variables could result in a gap that an audit will identify. Corrections can then be made before the missing elements result in a workplace tragedy or loss.
2. Audit scores are not reflective of individual employee performance. Audit scores provide a benchmark that certification programs (like COR) can use as eligibility criteria, but they are not really important to the audit process. The opportunity to identify where system improvements need to be made to ensure the ongoing effectiveness of the program is of far greater consequence.
Audit scores are even less useful as a measure of individual employee performance. Making bonuses or other perks dependent on an audit score is counter to the intent of the process, and can put unnecessary pressure on the auditors to ensure a specific outcome. If this results in an inaccurate report, it means a missed opportunity to identify deficiencies that need to be addressed.
A much better criteria to measure individual health and safety performance is tracking whether or not employees are following up on the specific safety responsibilities they have been assigned. Are assigned action items from the audit completed? Are inspection results followed up? Were investigations conducted within timelines allowed, and reports completed? These are activities under the employee’s control, and tracking them will strengthen the perception of management commitment to workplace safety much more effectively.
3. High audit scores do not certify a property as “safe.” Statistics continue to show that doing a good job of implementing the processes required by a COR audit will greatly improve workplace safety, but there may well be hazards out there that can potentially circumvent even the most sophisticated h&s management system. Extreme weather, natural disasters, and people (workers, contractors, visitors, guests and customers) can all introduce unsafe conditions and behaviors for which it is difficult to completely control.
We must also remember that audits are a snapshot in time that typically occur over a 2 or 3 day period. While a high-scoring site is more likely to have the systems in place to effective deal with new eventualities that could occur over the other 349 days of the year, employers will always remain vulnerable to unexpected behaviors and conditions that could jeopardize staff.
4. An effective health and safety management system should be ready for an audit at any time. Coaching interviewees, updating documentation and putting the workplace in order for the auditor’s arrival all defeat the purpose of the process. Prepping a site specifically for the audit means the opportunity to identify normal operational deficiencies may be lost. It can also negatively impact the property’s safety culture, as staff become jaded by the annual rush to make sure health and safety standards are in place for the audit though nothing is done at any other time during the year.
In particular, coaching interviewees to answer the auditor’s questions is not only unethical, but artificially skews audit results that may otherwise help identify deficiencies that may result in a workplace tragedy. It also puts unfair pressure on the workers chosen for an interview as they struggle to recall memorized responses, instead of providing answers that reflect their true understanding of the workplace safety program.
5. Auditors should select the interview subjects. To best determine if a trend in the audit data exists, sampling is expected to be representative of the workplace under audit. This means that sites, documentation and interviews sampled as part of the data gathering process must represent the property as a whole. To maintain the objectivity required by the process, Partnerships’ standards require that auditors select the specific interviewees themselves. The employer will be provided with the number of interviews required for each department and level before the audit begins. They may also be consulted by the auditor during the sampling process, but the individual interviewees must be chosen by the auditor at the start of the on-site data gathering.
Real, objective audit results that lead to continuous improvement of health and safety systems will ultimately translate to lower incident costs, reduced insurance rates, improved productivity and efficiencies, better worker morale, and less employee turnover. Done well, the value of regular, objective health and safety audits conducted to a clear standard goes far beyond the dollar amount reflected in a COR holder’s WCB rebate check.