Conducting occupational health and safety management system (OHSMS) audits provides valuable information and feedback about your system and signals whether it is meeting the requirements set by your organization and/or safety management system standards.
Taking these seven steps during the audit process can help you gather the information you need to accurately assessment of the effectiveness of your OHSMS.
1. Hold an Opening Meeting
Having an opening meeting before the audit begins introduces everyone to the process and defines their roles and responsibilities. During this meeting, you identify the points of contact for the audit team and explain how the team will communicate findings during the audit, particularly if any nonconformities are found. You also specify who will receive information as it is collected, how reports will be delivered and who will receive the final report.
2. Communicate During the Audit
An audit must be an ongoing conversation to be successful. Communication between the audit team members helps everyone fulfill their roles and responsibilities, track progress and understand the details of the audit findings.
“Communications are critical at all stages of an audit, and that is intensified when doing the information collection stage of the audit,” says Ken Clayman, lead associate, Booz Allen Hamilton. “We establish communication channels during the initiation and preparation audit stages, and we verify those channels during the opening meeting step of the on-site work.”
The lead auditor needs to keep stakeholders informed about the audit and its progress throughout the in-person stage. In addition, daily communications among the audit team are crucial, and typically occur in advance of a daily debrief with the key contacts at the facility.
Team meetings throughout the audit help auditors stay on track, and enables the group to review collected data and preliminary findings to confirm they are supported by adequate, verified evidence. Daily check-ins with key facility personnel keeps them informed of progress, makes them aware of developing or confirmed findings, and confirms any schedule adjustments.
“One primary principle that I follow in all audits is that the auditee should never be surprised about any outcomes of the audit,” says Clayman. “Communications need to occur throughout the audit to keep the auditee apprised of progress, issues and challenges.”
3. Establish Roles and Responsibilities of Guides and Observers
Guides and observers have essential roles in the audit process. They help the audit proceed smoothly, and ensure auditors have access to relevant information.
“In any audit there are typically escorts or guides who are with audit team members. Those are usually people from the organization or from the areas in which that the audit is being conducted,” Clayman explains. “But they are not doing the audit, they are getting auditors to and from the places they need to be, getting them information and getting them documents.”
For observers, participating in audits is often a valuable learning experience about the process and what information needs to be verified for the audit to be effective.
“Observers may be people either from the audit team itself where you might have auditors who are in training and they’re there to observe the audit to learn how to do it,” says Clayman. “They could also be observers from the audit team or the organization or group being audited and they’re there to watch and learn and to help verify things as you go along.”
Clayman emphasizes that observers must understand their role in the audit, which typically is to watch and listen, but not to participate directly in the audit. During downtime, observers or guides can ask questions, but typically they’re not actively participating in evidence collection.
4. Collect and Verify Information
At the center of the audit process is information gathering and verification. In this step, auditors review information and observe the workplace to verify that the work being done aligns with the safety and health requirements set by your organization or a safety management system standard.
Generally, audit teams conduct three main activities:
- Review documentation. Learning about how the system is designed and what should be happening in terms of managing occupational safety and health and other risks.
- Conduct employee interviews. This entails speaking with workers about their understanding of established processes and procedures, how they implement those processes and procedures and whether the system is achieving its goals to control risks.
- Observe operations and activities. Performing a visual assessment of the workplace can help determine whether the system is effectively managing risk and achieving continuous improvement. This could also include observing whether implementing the management system has changed organizational culture.
When conducting employee interviews, Clayman says auditors should focus on open-ended questions, with closed-ended questions mixed in. This can encourage interviewees to talk more — and have auditors listen more. Open-ended questions typically prompt employees to do most of the talking, while closed-ended questions help verify certain points.
5. Generate Audit Findings
When generating audit findings, auditors should compare audit evidence against the criteria established by the organization or the safety management system standard to assess conformance with the established requirements. The information collected throughout the audit and the audit findings then determine the audit conclusions.
6. Prepare Audit Conclusions
While audit findings focus on whether an organization complies with the established requirements, the audit conclusions indicate whether the OHSMS in achieving its objectives. To accomplish this, auditors compare audit evidence and findings with the objectives identified in the audit plan.
7. Hold a Closing Meeting
The closing meeting brings together the team from the opening meeting as well as others involved in the audit to conduct a debrief of the entire process. During this meeting, you should discuss what during the audit as well as the findings. In addition, be sure to share the information your team collected throughout the process and discuss the conclusions about the effectiveness of the OHSMS based on that information. With this information in hand, an organization can then determine the best path forward to further improve its safety and health management system.
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