You’ve implemented an occupational health and safety management system (OHSMS). Now what? While implementing an OHSMS can help reduce injuries, illnesses and fatalities, without periodic checks on that system, you can’t expect continuous improvement. That’s where auditing comes in. OHSMS audits allow you to assess the effectiveness of your system, identify gaps and find areas for improvement.
An effective audit starts with a good plan. Keep these five things in mind as you prepare to conduct an audit.
1. Assemble Your Audit Team
Your audit team is determined by the scope of the audit, its objectives and the complexity of the operations involved. In assembling the team, ask yourself what competencies are necessary to achieve the audit and its goals. The lead auditor should have experience in conducting and leading audits, an understanding of an OHSMS and a familiarity with the standards and other criteria the team will be evaluating against.
Auditors should have good interpersonal skills since they will be working with and speaking with many different people throughout the process. Make sure that that auditors understand how to work with others and ask questions in a manner that doesn’t create kickback from those they are speaking with.
2. Establish a Realistic Scope
Many factors can affect the scope of your audit. For example, audit frequency is a key consideration. If audits are conducted annually, you will need to set a scope that covers the entire organization, all internal criteria and the standard you are auditing against. If your audits are more frequent, such as quarterly or monthly, your scope may be narrower and focused on particular areas of the organization and your OHSMS.
Auditor competency also plays a role in how general or specific the audit will be. In early stages of an audit program, your auditors may not have the level of skill knowledge and experience to audit the entire OHSMS. In that case, it may best to narrow the scope to allow your auditors time to mature their skill set and understand the complexity of the organization.
In addition, you should consider risk as a factor in determining the audit scope. For example, if your risk assessment indicates multiple high-risk activities, you may want to narrow the audit’s scope. Overall, you want the enable the audit team to achieve the goals and the objectives of the audit in an adequate, suitable and effective manner.
3. Know the Questions You Want to Ask
Establishing the audit’s scope can establish what information you need to collect to achieve your desired outcome. Auditors should understand that they need to focus on open-ended questions that will get people talking and providing in-depth answers, as opposed to closed-ended questions or yes/no-type questions. Auditors should also know how to follow trails that come from the answers to open-ended questions from different sources.
4. Set a Schedule
Scheduling is a major focal point for conducting an OHSMS audit. You need to identify when, where and for how long auditors will be in different areas of the organization. It’s important to communicate to all involved where auditors will be while the audit is occurring, what they are looking at and for as part of the audit, and the criteria they are using. You also need to identify and schedule auditor interviews so that all involved know who auditors will be talking with and when those interviews will be conducted.
5. Prepare Your Documents
An audit is by definition a documented process. During the planning phase, be sure to gather and/or develop the documents you need to conduct the audit, starting with the audit plan. You should document the plan itself either in written or digital format so that everyone understands the schedule, scope, criteria, goals and objectives of the audit.
You can also develop checklists to help guide auditors and enable them to conduct the audit more effectively, stay on schedule and within the plan. However, while checklists can be useful, they should not be the be-all/end-all of the audit. Rather, they should serve as a guide and memory refresher for auditors. Auditors will also need to use forms to document non-conformances during the audit or immediately after.
Learn more about how to plan an effective OHSMS audit in our podcast episode with Ken Clayman, SMS, lead associate at Booz Allen Hamilton.
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