Occupational accidents, illnesses and worse are costly to both workers and their employers. Significant nonfatal workplace injuries cost companies about $59 billion in direct costs in 2018, which is more than a billion dollars each week, according to the 2021 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index. Fortunately, as workplace safety and regulatory standards are improving, the frequency and severity of workplace safety incidents are being dramatically reduced. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that the rate of workplace deaths in 2019 was less than half what it was when OSHA began in 1970.
Enforcing workplace protocols through safety inspections and safety audits is key to improving workplace safety. Although they are often used interchangeably and share the common goal of ensuring workers’ safety, inspections and audits are two distinct duties. Safety inspections root out potentially dangerous behaviors and dangers that could lead to accidents within an organization. Safety audits examine programs and processes to ensure they meet a company’s safety objectives.
These two crucial methods of maintaining a safe work environment require different procedures to meet their goals. Those interested in leading a company’s safety initiatives should consider advanced safety management education that delves into concepts such as safety audits and safety inspections.
Definitions: Safety Audit vs. Safety Inspection
Before addressing the similarities and differences between the two, it is important to understand the details of safety audits and safety inspections.
What Is a Safety Audit?
A safety audit assesses the efficacy of a company’s safety practices, training programs, safety systems and reporting processes. Safety audits aren’t as common as safety inspections, and frequently require the presence of an on-site professional or third-party consultant.
The safety auditor begins by gathering facts without developing opinions or making evaluative comments to present their findings objectively. Auditors should be knowledgeable about both company safety program best practices and the appropriate regulations for upholding those standards. A company must correct its safety processes if infractions are found in a safety audit or risk a potential citation from OSHA.
What Is a Safety Inspection?
A safety inspection is a detailed review that detects possible dangers and labor practices. A trained safety expert or even a nonspecialist may perform a safety inspection, depending on the specific circumstances and requirements of the job site.
Safety inspections can take a number of forms, but all of them aim to detect and correct potentially hazardous problems. One inspection might be to determine if protections on equipment sufficiently prevent accidents or injury. Another might look at workplace behavior to see whether certain activities are dangerous and avoidable. Sometimes different safety inspections can identify the same hazard, such as when workers do not use personal protective equipment (PPE), which relates to workplace behavior, because employers aren’t providing it, which has to do with equipment protections.
Similarities Between Safety Audits and Safety Inspections
Despite monitoring safety regulations in the workplace using differing methods, there are several similarities in how safety audits and safety inspections function.
Both safety audits and safety inspections have the goal of creating a safe workplace that adheres to all norms and standards within the industry. Despite using different means, audits and inspections both seek to reduce hazardous work conditions and improve overall safety.
Use of Checklists
Both may use a safety checklist that covers pertinent OSHA rules, best practices and other measures. Audits and inspections base their findings on the answers to a series of fact-finding questions, determining the results using only the objective answers, not the reviewer’s subjective or biased judgment.
OSHA does not mandate safety audits or inspections, but the agency considers them essential components of a comprehensive safety strategy. Audits and inspections are considered a type of good faith by OSHA. If a voluntary audit or inspection finds a hazardous condition that violates OSHA’s standards, but the workplace corrects it or creates steps to fix it promptly, OSHA may waive issuing a citation.
Differences Between Safety Audits and Safety Inspections
While audits and inspections may cover similar ground, they differ in scope and who typically performs each review.
A safety audit evaluates safety programs and strategies within a workplace, whereas a safety inspection investigates safety techniques and typical employee behavior. While an inspection may focus on how specific machinery is labeled for safe use or if any exits are blocked, an audit focuses more on behind-the-scenes adherence to a culture of safety such as how involved management is in safety training and how up-to-date employee safety lessons are.
Because safety inspections are much more focused on the specifics of a given workplace, they are typically performed by someone familiar with the setting and practices to best determine if industry safety standards are being met. On the other hand, due to the big-picture approach necessary to address the culture of safety at a given workplace, most safety audits are performed by trained third-party professionals who are able to take an unbiased approach.
Take Proactive Steps to Ensure Workplace Safety
Workplace safety reviews are critical to preventing on-the-job injuries and deaths. Those interested in learning more about leading workplace safety efforts, such as safety audits and safety inspections, should explore the online Master of Science in Safety, Security and Emergency Management program at Eastern Kentucky University.
With courses such as Construction Safety, Corporate Compliance and Personal/Environmental Hazards, the curriculum teaches students the approaches and techniques to keep a variety of workplaces safe from potential hazards. Find out how Eastern Kentucky University can help you become a leader in workplace safety.
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