safety auditing, as4801 auditing
Workplace Health and Safety Auditing
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Why is auditing safety performance important?

New work health and safety laws commenced in New South Wales, Queensland, the Australian Capital Territory, the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory on 1 January 2012. Safety auditing is the most effective and reliable way to determine the effectiveness of the current safety management system and to identify any opportunities for improvements required to comply with the new model WHS legislation. Safety auditing has other applications as well, for example, in case your company is seek to self-insure or comply with the SafetyMap requirements.

Performing periodic safety audits will inform the management:

  • How well the company is performing in terms of health and safety
  • Whether employees are meeting the standards which the company has set itself
  • Whether the company is complying with the new model Work Health and Safety laws

Some common types of safety audits:

Occupational health and safety (OHS) auditing is a term used to describe a wide range of assessments that can be undertaken for a variety of different purposes. An OHS management system is a planned, documented and verifiable method of managing safety hazards. What makes it a system is the deliberate linking and flow of processes that creates an intentional way of managing OHS matters.  Audits are conducted to determine the effectiveness of management systems and to identify the strengths and opportunities for improvements.

Compliance auditing

An audit can be specifically undertaken to determine if workplace practices are meeting minimal legislative requirements. However compliance auditing is not a guarantee of a risk free workplace as a detailed examination of every hazard is not possible during an audit. The responsibility for ongoing effective health and safety management systems rests with workplace management.

The hazards addressed during a compliance audit are determined by the workplace environment along with information obtained from specific training, relevant injury data and industry input. The outcomes of compliance audits give results that indicate if compliance is being achieved or if further actions are required to meet legislative standards.

Employers can undertake audits by reviewing the workplace operations using pre-developed workplace assessment tools and checklists. These assessments should be undertaken by appropriately trained internal staff or by external providers. Persons performing these reviews should have experience in hazard identification, risk assessments and possess a strong knowledge of current legislative requirements.

Hazard specific audits

Hazard specific audits address particular issues such as confined space entry, or working at heights and involve the inspection and testing of current workplace control methods. This type of audit has a narrow focus and looks at the effectiveness of policies and procedures in dealing with specific hazards. These audits differ from compliance audits in that the standards set by the organisation to address a risk of injury may exceed legislative requirements.

Many organisations use suitably qualified external providers to undertake these types of audits especially when hazardous tasks are being undertaken. Employees may also review specific hazards in order to monitor legislative compliance at a workplace.

The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (PDF, 855 kB) requires that workplace health and safety officers conduct a hazard based assessment of the workplace using criteria. These assessments must be conducted at least once every twelve months, or at intervals agreed between the management and the Occupational Health and Safety Committee.

There are certain common workplace hazards that need to be reviewed during the audits:

  • Work environment
  • Noise
  • Plant
  • Electrical
  • Hazardous substances
  • Manual tasks
  • Working at heights
  • Confined spaces
  • Asbestos
Comprehensive management system audit

An occupational health and safety management systems audit has a wider scope, and although addressing hazards and risk controls, it also looks at organisational structures, planning activities, responsibilities, implemented procedures, review cycles and measurement and evaluation issues.

A basic occupational health and safety management system has some of the following characteristics:

  • Existence of a health and safety policy that is communicated to staff
  • Management commitment
  • Allocation of responsibilities and accountability for health and safety matters
  • Controls for suppliers, sub-contractors and purchasing
  • Health and safety consultation
  • Hazard identification, evaluation and control
  • Provision of information and training of staff
  • Incident recording, investigation, analysis and review
  • Emergency management and response
  • Measuring and evaluating workplace health and safety performance.

Many organisations undertake these audits on an annual basis as the amount of resources and time required to conduct a management systems audit can be substantial. These audits can be undertaken by appropriately trained internal staff or by an external third party.

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Elements audited under AS/NZS 4801 Safety Management Systems

safety auditing, as4801 auditing criteria

Common workplace hazards:
common hazards, safety hazards

Safety auditing process:

Safety auditng process


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