Under health and safety legislation, businesses must provide a safe place of work and provide safe systems of work for their employees. They must also consult workers about safety, which will help to identify hazards, manage risks, and implement and monitor risk control measures.

One of the best ways to meet these challenges is by undertaking audits and inspections.

An effective audit and inspection program is one of the most important preventative measures that you can take to ensure a safe and healthy workplace. It also allows you to be proactive in identifying risks to health and safety in your business.

To begin with, an audit is a documented process for reviewing a health and safety system, program or workplace practice. An audit determines whether the system, program or practice complies with legislative requirements, established guidelines and best practice in health and safety.

Did you know that under the Work Health and Safety Act (WHS Act), there are specific requirements for businesses to audit? These are:

  • confined spaces;
  • general diving work; and
  • major hazard facilities.

While many businesses might not be affected by the first two points, the third point could definitely affect many workplaces.

To help determine where your business sits, there are three main types of audits you may need to conduct in your workplace:

  1. Compliance audits.
  2. Risk-specific audits.
  3. Management system audits.

Compliance audit

A compliance audit assesses the effectiveness of the business’s health and safety practices, and determines whether it complies with legislative standards.

For example, you might undertake an audit of your incident notification systems to check whether they are compliant with the health and safety regulator’s requirements in your jurisdiction.

Risk-specific audit

A risk-specific audit addresses a specific risk, e.g. working from heights or working in confined spaces. A risk-specific audit has a narrower focus than a compliance audit.

It tests the effectiveness of procedures in controlling a specific risk.

Management system audit

A management system audit assesses the effectiveness of the organisation’s structure, procedures and responsibilities. Management system audits often involve significant work and are usually conducted by a third party annually.

Overall, audits can be undertaken by appropriately trained internal staff, or an external third party.

What is an inspection?

An inspection is an examination of the workplace to check for hazards and operational safety. Sometimes, an inspection might just be an informal, unscheduled walk around the workplace, or it could be a formal, planned inspection.

An inspection should assesses the safety of current activities or equipment while looking for health and safety improvement opportunities. Inspections identify immediate or potential hazards and provide an opportunity to give positive feedback on good safety practices.

Inspections can allow for an immediate response to any unsafe situation or activity while demonstrating that the business is serious about improving safety for all workers. An inspection may target the entire workplace, or it may be limited in its scope, e.g. it may target a particular area of operations or a single piece of equipment.

Don’t assume that everything is fine in the workplace unless a problem is brought to your attention. You have a responsibility to proactively make yourself aware of your business’s health and safety performance at all times.

Inspections may be carried out by:

  • senior management;
  • supervisors;
  • a health and safety representative;
  • the health and safety committee; or
  • other workers.

Importantly, inspections should be conducted – and acted upon - regularly.

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