Why are performing health and safety audits necessary?

Let’s define what we mean by the term health and safety audit before we answer the question.
 
A health and safety audit, whether carried out by internal or external persons, should be looking for objective evidence that your Health and Safety Management system meets the organisations Health & Safety Policy aims and needs.
 
When you examine this in detail the audit should determine the:

  • Existence of

  • Adequacy, and

  • Use of a health and safety management system.

This could be based around ISO 45001:2018 Occupational health and safety management systems, for example. If you follow this standard (or indeed HSG 65 – Managing for Health and Safety) you will be familiar with the continuous improvement cycle – Plan, Do, Check Act. The audit will form an essential part of the ‘Check’ segment of this cycle.

Health and safety audits can take many forms, but essentially should all aim to provide effective management information that can be used to manage the business safely and without risk to health.
 

So, why should I conduct a health and safety audit?

Let’s distil this down to the basics. Health and safety audits are necessary to:

  • Protect your workforce and other who may be affected by your business activities

    • It is after all morally reprehensible to injure your most valuable assets whilst at work

  • Protect the company from the financial penalties that can be levied.

    • Since their introduction in 2016 the sentencing guidelines have seen the size of fines significant increase especially for the larger companies.

  • Demonstrate that you comply with your legal obligations

If a company can identify its own shortfalls, and of course rectify them, before the HSE come visiting you should be able to avoid having to pay the FFI (Fees For Intervention- currently £154/hour) charges that the HSE can now impose if the find a “material breach”.
 
As part of your Corporate Governance strategy you will be duty bound to undertake health and safety audits to check performance. Stakeholders don’t like the bad publicity that poor health and safety governance attracts.
 

Who should carry out a Health and Safety Audit?

Put simply - a competent person.
 
This could be an internal or externally appointed person. But, be careful when determining who you choose as your competent person, because health and safety is one of those areas where (sorry to use an old clich√© here) you don’t know what you don’t know. 
 
Here’s an example to explain why;
Your company operates a single forklift truck not used to often, but nonetheless an essential piece of equipment.  You ask your warehouse person to make sure you do what needs to be done with the forklift truck. The warehouse person carries out an audit of the use of the FLT and determines that everything is fine because they have checked driver training records are in date, the FLT is serviced regularly and backed up by regular daily checks by the operator.
 
Unfortunately, though they didn’t know about LOLER (Lifting Operation & Lifting Equipment Regs), so no statutory inspections as dictated by LOLER have been undertaken. This now means the company is in breach of the relevant health and safety legislation and could be liable to prosecution. Clearly a case to demonstrate that ignorance is not bliss and cannot be used as a defence in a court of law!

For more information on contact the PSM Health & Safety team via email psm.enquiries@alcumusgroup.com or call 01484 439930.

Alcumus PSM (People & Safety Management) specialises in human resources (HR) and health & safety (H&S) consulting for small and medium-sized enterprises.

Written by Graham Carson, Senior Health & Safety Consultant