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How do audits deliver results?

A health and safety audit is the "structured process of collecting independent information on the efficiency, effectiveness and reliability of the total health and safety management system and drawing up plans for corrective action" (HSE)

Audits are relevant in all organisations, even those without a formal management system currently in place.

An audit identifies how well an organisation is managing its health and safety. It identifies what needs to be done to improve (both legally and organisationally). It creates a baseline for future comparison, and it is part of the checking process - the active monitoring (plan - do - check -act).

Audits help you PLAN what to do. The action plan tells you what you need to DO. Follow up audits CHECK progress, allowing you to ACT on recommendations.

There are many ways of checking performance. Many are reactive - after a problem is found - for example after accidents, incidents, or ill health; as part of investigations or other corrective failures. Active (or proactive) methods are better, through inspections, observations, checks and audits.

Audits should always be tailored to the organisation being audited. Know the organisation's culture, politics and key people. Know the scope of the audit and stick with it. Ask relevant open questions. Look at sample evidence. Talk in plain understandable language. This will all help with management buy-in and in creating Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) later.

There are different types of audit - organisational, contractor, and topic audits.

Organisational audits are company wide.

Contractor audits ensure that contractors are compliant and doing what they should do. They are good at building relationships and allow the contractor to know what they are expected to achieve.

Topic audits could include, for example asbestos, permit to work, food safety, Legionella, work at height, and so on.

Audits deliver results. They work best if they are independent, but this is not essential.

When choosing an auditor, check their qualifications, their experience in similar companies, their knowledge of your organisation, their other work, reputation and competence. Also look at cost - you get what you pay for!

As with everything in life, there are positives and negatives in auditing.

Audits affirm what you are doing right. They identify ways of increasing efficiency and can save you money. They help an organisation open its eyes to previously unseen issues. They deliver results (if fully actioned).

However audits can cause some hostility - "I don't have the time" or "this is not my priority". Communicating what and why you are doing the audits often helps with this.

If an auditor does not research the organisation, or know the audit scope, the audit may run into trouble.

So you've had the audit and then the report arrives. The report should help prioritise and focus resources where they are needed. The report is a useful record of performance, and creates a positive cycle for improvement (plan - do -check - act). The report makes management aware of problems for which they are ultimately responsible. They can enhance employee / employer relationships.

However, the report can be deflating if there are too many actions. It can be seen as negative. It can be seen as giving people an additional workload - it needs to be broken down into bitesize pieces. It can be confusing as to where to start. I recommend starting with small but "big" hits. Get management buy-in, and create a timeline for action.

Audit reports should be kept simple with no jargon. Maintain standards and say what needs to be said. Turn negatives into positives wherever possible. Overtly negative reports mean actions are not completed. Make the audit form usable and keep it simple. Do not include too much information that it will never be read.

Some audit reports use a scoring system, which can allow benchmarking. However they are subjective, and can be difficult if tailoring the audit for an organisation.

In summary, audits should be positive, tailored to the organisation, simple and jargon free, and comprehensive. Audit reports and action plans should be easy to use, and say exactly what needs doing, while remaining jargon free and avoiding the unnecessary.

KSH Safety Services can carry out health and safety audits for your business. For more information, visit


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