Health and Safety Compliance Audit

The importance of the Occupational Health and Safety Compliance Audit.

Audits, a word most employers and employees are not particularly fond of. The word itself creates negative feelings with managers and employers. Most organizations view audits as a waste of time and a necessary evil. Why? Because they are done incorrectly, or more accurately done ineffectively. Within this, the importance of the audit itself is missed, and with it, the positive effect it could have on the organization. However, the Health and Safety Compliance Audits can be dynamic, directly contributing to the success of your organization. Let us explore this further.

Health and Safety compliance audits are the eyes and ears of the organization as to whether the safety program is operating effectively and meeting the planned objectives. The OHS Audits review every aspect of the company’s operational aspects and the practices within them, including that of suppliers and contractors. They then provide feedback to management on whether these aspects and its responsible people are working in a safe manner, contributing to the company’s turnover, and ultimately, its profitability.

Over the last few years, the need has arisen for health and safety audits to not only be focused on clauses and legal statements from the Health and Safety legislation, but to also be process based. Thus, audits in health and safety have made a shift from being only conformance based, to looking at the actual level of effectiveness of health and safety practices within the organization.

Pure clause-based auditing is only focused on what legislation and standards say, and whether the company is adhering to those standards whilst process-based auditing, looks at the relationship between those standards and clauses in balance with the practices and activities of the organization and then, to see if these actually work. The ultimate question then becomes the one regarding risk management, and if this is actually achieved.

The challenge with health and safety compliance audits has always been that they have not evolved from the clause-based approach, with the evolution of business practices and management approaches. This, in turn, has added to the frustration around getting them done, which as we now can see, was a mistake. If one follows the process-based approach, a clear scope for the audit is needed as one cannot simply look at The OHS Act and think it is enough, you would need to consider the health and safety regulations, tobacco law, the COID Act, contractors management as well as the local municipal by laws. A full view and clarity on the company’s health and safety performance can then be achieved. What we need, is to understand why.

The most important asset of any organization is its employees. This statement is spoken by many, but how many actually practice the principles that bring this statement to life? I think the answer to this question would shock a few, and not surprise many others. The truth is, in South Africa, we are a culture and a country of risk takers, chancers and fast answers, rather than correct solutions. In this culture of high octane and risky activities to push businesses forward, employees are in the thick of things, and often, in the way of something that ultimately kills them.

It is for this reason that the health and safety audits need to be done and that those employees are exposed to its findings, its corrective actions and become part of the correct solution, rather than the act now and worry later approach. Considering the ramifications of not knowing what risks the employees are exposed to, and thinking clearly on them, it becomes unfathomable as to why business leaders would not want to know what is going on in their companies, in terms of safety.

Just consider the communities we live in. A father who cannot work anymore due to an accident at his workplace, no longer brings an income to his household. His children, would now have a smaller chance of success in life, due to a lack of support in financial resources, which, possibly, could have paid for a college education. The community as a whole, is therefore also poorer, and physically poorer communities have higher crime rates, lower employment rates, and more social instability. So, even as unthinkable as it may seem, your compliance audit, which you so dread to have as it is such a huge headache, is in fact protecting lives and livelihoods, as long as you have it, and act on it, as the law, and basic human morals, require you to do.

Now let's discuss road maps. In the old days, parents would sit and look at the maps to drive from one point to another over long distances, plan their sleepover destinations, where to refill the car and grab a snack. So a map is a great tool for planning on how to get somewhere else. Health and safety compliance audits are the same. Where you are right now in your health and safety program will not be the same as where you will be with it tomorrow. In fact, every day, and every minute of every day, your compliance is probably slipping down the hill into a valley of troubles, accidents, prosecutions and unfortunately the possible death of an employee. If you have an audit, which has a decent scope, looks at practices and not just clauses, it becomes your road map for ensuring that you avoid these issues. But, as we know, maps are not enough, we also need responsible drivers.

Considering the aspect around audits which need to be done in such a way that processes are considered, the people who run those processes also need to be considered. The question of accountability is the same question which steers employers away from having their audits done. Like we have shown, in a country of risk takers, accountability is difficult to find but at the same time, you cannot be accountable, if you don't know what you are accountable for. One of the most important reasons for compliance audits is so that you can assign the necessary responsibilities in your organization, to the people who have to carry them out, so that can show that you are accountable. The mistake that many make is thinking that you can use the information from your audit and assign accountability to someone else. In the eyes of the law, you, the employer, will always be accountable, whether you like it or not, and if you do not like it, maybe you should not be leading others?

But what is it that drives accountability more than anything else? The answer is quite straightforward, money. Very few things can get an employer to move as fast and effectively as a good profit. For the right price, most will do almost anything as it gives them that edge over the competition, gets them ahead and naturally, it is also a great ego boost. The catch 22 we look at here is that for the very same reasons people would do almost anything to make a Rand or two, and take chances in doing so, they stand to lose even more by not doing what is right and determine the needs of their safety program. So when that program fails, the costs are enormous. Then you have the employers who do their audits, get their findings resolved and a year later when no accidents have occured, they call audits and health and safety programs insurance schemes, which they then abandon, regrettably so for the employees who work there.

Lets face it, health and safety is and will always be a grudge purchase and the viewpoint on this as an insurance policy will always be there. The thing is, there is nothing inherently wrong with that. Any good business will consider insurance within their scope of responsibilities to look after their assets, finance and even their income security. So why not look at health and safety and compliance audits as an exercise in ensuring what needs to be insured? If employers are responsible in making sure that their buildings, machines, and products are ensured, why should they not consider investing in insurance for their employees? The answer again is money. And so, again we stumble upon the reality that what drives us to succeed, is also what holds us back in being morally accountable.

Now that we have explored the question of accountability, let's look at some of the best practices you can apply to get the best results from your compliance audit.

 Make safety a focus within the workplace, and reinforce this with a zero-tolerance policy regarding actions that promote unnecessary risks.
Regularly review and update the company’s documented health and safety policy and procedures. In addition, ensure that copies of the policy and procedures are easily accessible to all staff members.
Document each potential risk that both employees and customers could be exposed to, along with what steps have been taken to mitigate these risks.
Regularly conduct a comprehensive series of risk assessments, record the findings and take action to control any identified deficiencies
Clearly define and outline the responsibilities of each employee in the company’s documented health and safety policy and procedures
If an incident is to occur, regardless of its severity, it should be reported in a timely manner to the appropriate senior-level manager within the company.

Taking these steps will go a long way in aiding in your improved compliance, saving you money, saving lives as well as to show your employees that you care about them.

Knowing how important your compliance audits in health and safety are, is the first step towards ensuring a safe workplace for your employees and other stakeholders. Something to remember is that knowing and implementing are two very different things. Also, knowing what these audits are supposed to do for your company and seeing their results are often worlds apart. This is where SafetyWallet can make all the difference between success and failure. Because of the need to see better results, there is a growing trend to outsource the functions in supporting the development of health and safety programs. Allow us to take your burden and turn it into an asset. Contact us today to find out how we can help you succeed.

Ockert Fourie
Makrosafe Holdings (Pty) Ltd.
Regional Director, Gauteng Central
12 September 2019

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