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Safety Audits: How to Choose the Right Auditor

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Would you let someone without a driver's licence borrow your car? People without medical training prescribe you medication? Or let someone decide on risk controls who didn't have training in health and safety?

For most of you the answer is a definitive "No".

In fact, we use and rely on trained, qualified and experienced people every day in our private and professional lives. Think about who operates your train, who maintains your car, who wired your house or designed your place of work. Without the right licence, qualification, certification or specialty, are you going to be comfortable subjecting yourself to whatever service they are offering?

How about letting someone, without training or qualifications, loose in your organisation and letting them decide whether your organisation is performing or not? Better yet, how about having to fix whatever problems this unqualified person 'found'? (sound familiar?)

Hopefully the answer is still 'No' but I'm not convinced that everyone's answers would be quite so definitive. Auditing is a specialist skill that requires training, qualifications and, in many cases, 3rd party certification. Safety Auditors can exert real influence (both good and bad) on how an organisation operates, and yet too often those without specialist skills or experience are asked (or ask) to perform Audits that they aren't qualified for.

But qualifications are just the start. Experience also contributes to how well tasks are performed and are particularly important when it comes to Safety Auditing if you want to maximise the benefit.

If you can find a Safety Auditor with the right amount and the right type of experience your Audits will be completed more efficiently, with a higher degree of quality and independence resulting audit findings that better align to your organisation, industry and legislative requirements.

Without the right experience, Safety Audits can run longer, focus on the wrong areas and ultimately limit any value you're likely to achieve out of them.

For a moment let's consider your own industry. Think about how much inherent knowledge you have of your industry specific terminology or jargon, or the knowledge of your industry's risk profile. Now consider how much of a difficult time a Safety Auditor is going to have when they don't have this inherent knowledge.

Limited industry experience means a poor understanding of risk profiles and a lack of knowledge of industry standard practices. As Risk Profiles differ from industry to industry, having the right type of industry knowledge can lead to benefits, including:

  • A risk based approach. An auditor's time will be better spent evaluating how well high risk areas are being controlled, rather than focussing on low consequence hazards. Without a strong working knowledge of the risk profile, it will be difficult to allocate time effectively.
  • Quality Assessment of Risk Controls. What is considered a reasonable safety control in one, can often be regarded as ineffective in another. Consider controls for mobile plant on a construction site. Knowledge of these risk controls isn't necessarily going to be helpful when evaluating the quality of risk controls in a warehousing and logistics environment.
  • Better Opportunities for Improvement. Consider the impact of an Auditor from a high risk industry, coming into a low risk environment. The possibility of unnecessary risk controls being introduced is high if the Auditor can't differentiate effectively between risk profiles. Similarly, an auditor from a low risk industry may not have the required knowledge to effectively evaluate the performance of high consequence risk controls, leaving your organisation potentially exposed to greater health and safety risks.

This is only exacerbated by a lack of knowledge of industry specific jargon and acronyms which, let's face it, are everywhere.

Such terms, when everyone understands, serves a purpose. Who wants to write As Low As is Reasonably Practicable, instead of ALARP, or National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme instead of NHVAS? But jargon and acronyms can also hinder. Here's a small sample of some that I have come across in recent times (bonus points for anyone who knows them all!):

  • CPAV: "We only use a CPAV in this scenario"
  • SPAD: "We had a SPAD Incident"
  • COR: "All our people have completed COR training"
  • Pitbull: "The Pitbull didn't lock properly"
  • LUEZ: "Pedestrians aren't allowed in the LUEZ"
  • Gondola: "Adjusting gondolas is left to facility maintenance"
  • Ice Bunkers: "The Ice Bunkers kept causing people to slip"
  • The fifth wheel: "Make sure the locks are open on the fifth wheel"
  • SLP "Without an SLP they can't go anywhere"

Anyone without experience in the applicable industry is going to struggle to interpret the jargon and acronyms above without even a little help. Even if I was to tell you the industry, some of them are so good that it's still going to be difficult to understand, even with the additional context.

Poorly understood jargon can significantly impact on how well and how efficiently an audit progresses as it reduces the ability of an auditor to understand work practices and slows understanding of hazards, risk levels and control effectiveness.

While everyone always has a first time working in an industry or hearing jargon, an audit, with the accompanying pressures, is probably not the best way to spend your first time.

Having established that someone has the right type of industry experience, how do you know that they have the specialist auditing skills? You could review your Auditors CV for the right qualifications, or a summary of completed audits to get a feel for the amount and type of audits completed, but there is a simpler way.

Using organisations like Exemplar Global (EG) or the International Register of Certificated Auditors (IRCA) you can identify auditors who have been independently assessed as having the right qualifications and experience. Some organisations, like Exemplar Global, also offer different levels of certification (Associate vs Lead Auditor) and certification in specific management systems (eg. OHS or Quality) so you can better select an auditor with the right qualifications and experience to suit your needs. (Wondering about the auditors at Verus? - All our team are Exemplar Global Certified Lead OHS Management System Auditors)

Independent certification has additional benefits, including assurance that your Auditor will remain independent from the System being audited, as well as providing assurance that your chosen auditor has an up to date knowledge as certification generally requires a mandatory amount of professional development (e.g. 120 hours / 4 years) to maintain certification.

In many cases regulators and accreditation organisations will demand that a Safety Audit is completed by a certified Lead Auditor in order to be accepted. Don't be confused by someone who has completed a Lead Auditor course as this won't count. In these cases, you'll have to find an Auditor who has been certified as 'Lead" because of the strength of their skills and experience.

So, before you let someone "drive your car without a licence" consider what the objective of your audit is and how the knowledge, qualifications and experience of your auditor can impact on the outcomes.

The benefits of using the right Auditor for your safety audits are numerous. Your audit will be more efficient, provide more accurate results, include more useful opportunities to improve and will better reflect the organisations risk profile. You can better assure yourself of the suitability of your auditor by selecting one that has been independently certified as having the right qualification and the right type and amount of experience.

If you're interested in more ways to improve your Safety Audits, join our community by subscribing and over the coming weeks, we will outline common Safety Audit pitfalls and practical ways to avoid them. Next up: Don't Conceal or Suppress Evidence. 

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