I never realized the benefits of an audit until later in my career. Audits have commonly been looked on as a nuisance and aggravating in the past. Someone comes into the workplace and “tries to find something wrong”. I suppose that many auditors and consultants have done exactly that, but an audit should be a positive experience. If handled correctly with professionalism, an audit can be the best tool to determine if your business unit or company is as safe and compliant as it can and should be.
Work practices and daily routines should never be changed because an auditor is present or on the way. I have always explained that if you change the manner in which you work or carry on the business because an auditor is present, it is for wrong reason. An audit should an affirmation that work practices which employees are using are the best and safest. Some productivity issues can also be improved by having a third party auditor from outside the system to observe work practices.
I have been performing audits and risk assessments for companies for over 20 years, and I have witnessed some remarkable events in doing so. Discovery of non-compliance can be handled by many methods. If mishandled, the event can turn ugly very quick. Credibility will be lost for the auditor, and employees will have no trust in the process.
If companies do not have a Self-Assessment tool to assist in an internal review, the third party audit may be surprising to say the least. Many years ago, internal reciprocal audits where introduced at the company that I worked for. A team of employees from another business unit or location would visit another office, headquarters, or crew and complete a short audit with a pre-determined scope. Of course, if there were any “Imminent Danger” situations they would be addressed on site. The audit results would then be delivered to local leadership team. They were very beneficial to all who participated. It is amazing how the “local” employees are able to walk in and step over non-compliant and unsafe situations and “not see” them. If an internal audit were conducted, the visitors from outside the business unit would immediately identify issues that may need attention. This resulted in some of the most beneficial improvements to basic compliance at the least cost to the company.
A truck inspection/audit performed once a quarter is extremely efficient method of discovering tool and vehicle issues that may be overlooked or ignored by every day employees. A Daily Vehicle Inspection Report (DVIR) that is required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations will not identify defected tools, cover equipment, test equipment that may need maintenance or need to be replaced. Employees don’t always report everything they should. Many accidents have occurred when employees attempt to use a tool in need of repair that had not been identified by the user.
I recently had the opportunity to perform walk downs and risk assessments for several companies. I am amazed each time at the number of violations I discover from just walking through the facilities. Many times Sub Part “S” Electrical Safety violations are on the top of the list. Machine guarding and walking working surfaces are a close second on the list of most violations discovered. Lighting and noise exposure follow. Then there is environmental issue such as Haz Mat and Haz Com. One company facility has had as many as 80 different violations on one report; that could have been extremely costly to the company if they had not been identified and corrected.
Then there are work practice reviews. I often tell companies in presentations and training I provide to electric utilities and contractors that “the big end of the pole goes in the ground”. This is a fact and is true in all locations. What amazes me is how local cultures can affect the work practices to the point that they are unsafe or questionable compliance to industry standards. I believe those methods of cover up, grounding or two of the most controversial work practices because they are normally unique to the company and system. I have found many times that what is accepted as minimal compliance is not always followed by all employees. Audits will help discover these issues and if corrections needed. Auditors can then make suggestions based on acceptable industry standards.
It is much easier to discover the issues that are out of compliance and possible unsafe through an audit process than it is to deal with Department of Labor, informal conferences, and abatement procedures after the fact. There is a belief among many companies, especially utility and their contractors, that if nothing has happened, all is well. When in fact, if companies will take the time to perform internal or external audits, they will discover needed training and corrections to compliance and safety programs and work practices.
Until next time, stay safe out there.