Business & compliance advice
What is a health and safety audit, and why have one?
Written by Phoenix Health & Safety
14th January 2021
A health and safety audit is an expert assessment of an organisation’s health and safety policies, systems and procedures.
A health a safety audit should address:
- Are current procedures and systems correct and delivering the expected outcomes?
- Is the organisation protecting the wellbeing of the workforce and complying with the relevant regulations?
What are the benefits of a health and safety audit?
Regular health and safety audits are widely recognised as best practice for all different types of organisations. Audits are much more than just a box-ticking exercise or defensive measure, they can bring about positive benefits to businesses.
Primarily, audits enable you to protect employees, customers and visitors from harm. But, ultimately, a professionally conducted audit can also safeguard the existence of the company. That’s because a serious incident could result in prosecutions, severe reputational damage and financial penalties.
Why have a health and safety audit?
No organisation is legally obliged to undergo a health and safety compliance audit.
Nevertheless, companies of all types and sizes consider regular audits to be essential.
Reasons why you should conduct a health and safety audit:
- Health and safety audits reveal much more than just what is going wrong. They also highlight successes and enable employers to praise the people who are getting it right.
- Setting up a safety audit system doesn't just protect employees and customers from injury and illness. It motivates staff by showing them that their employer is serious about their well-being.
- A correctly conducted safety audit can safeguard a company’s assets. A serious health and safety incident can lead to unfavourable publicity that damages trade.
- When the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) brings prosecutions for health and safety breaches, they invariably cite failures that an audit would have highlighted. Prosecutions can lead to enormous fines and legal costs, even imprisonment.
- Every employer is legally obliged to have a health and safety policy in place. This should be in writing if there are five or more employees. Without an audit, it's impossible to be sure that your policy is fit for purpose. So, as well as a health and safety policy, you need a safety audit policy.
What does a typical health and safety policy look like?
A health and safety policy sets out how the business intends to manage health and safety, stating clearly who does what, when, and how in three sections.
- Statement of intent, outlining the company's health and safety goals.
- Specific health and safety responsibilities of management and employees, listing names, positions and roles.
- Existing health and safety issues at the business and what practical measures are in place to ensure that these issues are addressed e.g. doing a risk assessment, training employees, and using safety signs or equipment.
Under The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974), a company's health and safety policies must be frequently reviewed and assessed. What’s more, all employees must be fully informed of any changes made.
The experts at Phoenix can help you identify your health and safety issues and write a clear, concise and practical health and safety policy.
What does a health and safety audit cover?
A typical OHS audit (occupational health and safety) will include:
- Documentation: checking that you have a suitable health and safety policy, process documents and suitable arrangements for harmful substances in place.
- Interviews with managers, heads of departments, and ‘shop floor’ personnel (who often have invaluable insights based on everyday working experience).
- Checking whether your health and safety policy is being followed.
Should I use an external auditor, or can I audit in-house?
Health and safety audits can be internal or external. They can be conducted by a member of staff or by external independent consultants, such as Phoenix.
What is an internal audit?
To conduct an internal audit, you require at least one team member who, in the words of the regulations, is a 'competent person.’
The law describes a competent person as “someone who has sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities that allow them to assist you properly.” Therefore, the safest way to ensure your internal audit has been properly conducted is to appoint a team member with appropriate qualifications.
Your competent person should have the relevant health and safety training or qualifications, such as a NEBOSH Diploma or NEBOSH Certificate. We offer courses via our e-learning platform, ideal for employees who wish to earn a health and safety certificate online.
The main advantage of having an in-house audit is greater control over the process. For example, it can take place in stages to minimise disruption. Often, it’s also a lower-cost alternative - although an unsuitable internal audit could end up costing your business far more than you save.
Furthermore, an effective internal audit can be a useful management tool. It enhances everyone’s understanding of how the business is performing and highlights any potential problems.
What is an external H&S audit?
An external health and safety audit is the gold standard.
Phoenix audits are conducted according to the requirements of UK law. This includes the principles detailed in the HSE's authoritative health and safety audit template (HSE Best Practice Document HSG65).
A further benefit of turning the task over to independent experts, like us, is the opportunity to benchmark your organisation against its peers and competitors. We do this by using recognised standards, such as BS OHSAS 18001 and ISO 39001.
Why work with Phoenix?
Our qualified safety auditors can tailor audits to organisations of any type or size. Once the assessment has been completed, we produce a prioritised action plan with detailed recommendations for required improvements.
And, of course, if you prefer to conduct internal audits, we can help you train your team, so they have the essential qualifications and skills.
For more information on our health and safety audits service, get in touch.