Workplace health and safety (WHS) audits are often dreaded, striking fear into managers and employees alike. But remember, audits aren’t trying to catch us out or expose our failings, they’re purpose is ultimately to help protect our workers. The health and safety requirements of every business changes over time (as do best practices), and audits allow workplace compliance to be checked, and if necessary, brought back in line. By ensuring WHS compliance, we can make sure the right procedures and processes are in place to protect the health and safety of our employees and contractors.
What is a WHS Audit?
At its most basic, a WHS audit is the process of assessing a workplace and identifying any hazards that may put employees at risk. The audit can either be an informal walk around or a formal planned inspection, however in both cases, it is a documented process and demonstrates why safety is important in the workplace. The idea is to review the systems of safe work that are in place and ascertain whether they meet compliance and legislative requirements.
There are three principal types of audits that business can undertake:
- Compliance audit – ensuring that the workplace is free from recognised hazards and complies with WHS standards.
- Program audit – to verify that the necessary programs are in place to dictate safety rules and regulations and reduce the number of safety incidents.
- Management systems audit – to evaluate the effectiveness of management’s commitment to safety programs and their integration into safety culture.
What Does a WHS Audit Involve?
WHS audits involve three essential techniques: reviewing documentation, interviewing employees and observing the workplace. Audits can be internal or external, either conducted by a member of staff or independent consultants. To perform an internal audit, a member of staff needs to have the right training and qualifications, but it does give the company greater control over the process and the cost. An external audit, on the other hand, is the gold standard that allows organisations to benchmark themselves against others.
Some businesses will be subject to external WHS audits to comply with regulations. Criteria can seem pretty strict, but as long as businesses practice effective record keeping, they’ll have the documentation in place to provide the evidence needed.
How Often Are WHS Audits Needed?
There isn’t a standard frequency for WHS audits; it comes down to each business, the level of risk of its activities and the relevant compliance regulations. As a minimum, every business should carry out annual audits of its WHS programs and systems to ensure safety is maintained. However, in some industries and for some activities, audits are required daily or even hourly. In this case, when there is a high level of risk, checklists are used to ensure work meets company and compliance standards.
What Are the Benefits of WHS Audits?
As we’ve touched on, the ultimate aim of WHS audits isn’t to catch you out so much as to ensure that you can rectify any problems and maintain a safe workplace. There are many benefits of WHS audits for workplace safety, concluding the opportunity to:
- Highlight potential issues – by identifying potential WHS problems you have the chance to make changes before an incident occurs
- Improve employee awareness – audits can help employees to better understand why safety is important in the workplace
- Improve company reputation – employing good health and safety policies and procedures makes a positive impression with clients and suppliers.
- Ensure ongoing compliance – if a company isn’t compliant, it risks serious penalties as well as the health and safety of its workers.
Does Every Business Need WHS Audits?
The short answer is, yes. If you want to ensure your employees return safely to their families at the end of each workday, then you owe it to them to carry out audits.
Safety and well-being is one of the biggest issues facing employers today. WHS audits help to rate a business’s health and safety program, identify its strengths and weaknesses and show where improvements can be made. It is an ongoing and continual process that aims to keep everyone safe.
Audits should be integrated into every company’s business practices, something that both the business and its employees are aware of and prepared for. If an incident were to take place, audits prove that the systems and processes were in place to try to avoid it.
There really is no excuse not to undertake WHS audits; if you are a responsible employer who cares about the well-being of your employees, you owe it to them.