What is a health and safety audit? (And how to perform them)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 13 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Health and safety are of the utmost importance in workplaces and taking appropriate precautions can lead to the best outcomes. Health and safety audits are an important part of any organisation's health and safety management system. Conducting a health and safety audit can help organisations improve their health and safety performance by identifying opportunities for improvement. In this article, we answer 'What is a health and safety audit?', list the benefits of conducting these audits and provide a nine-step guide on how to perform an audit in the workplace.

Related: The 7 types of audits and what they are useful for

What is a health and safety audit?

The answer to 'What is a health and safety audit?' is that it's an inspection of an organisation's health and safety practices and procedures. Legislation requires all employers to have a health and safety policy in place. The purpose of a health and safety audit is to ensure that an organisation's health and safety policy is fit for its purpose, assess its working practices against the relevant legislation and identify any areas where it could make improvements.

Related: The importance of health and safety at work (with tips)

Who can conduct a health and safety audit?

Health and safety audits can be internal or external. An internal audit is one that someone within the company carries out whereas an independent third party conducts an external audit. Conducting an internal audit allows organisations to get a better understanding of their own health and safety procedures and how employees are adhering to them. It can also give companies the opportunity to identify and rectify any problems before external auditors conduct a separate audit. Trusting an external consultant to conduct an audit can provide impartiality and a fresh perspective.

Related: What is a near miss? Definition and workplace safety tips

What happens during a health and safety audit?

During a health and safety audit, the auditor, whether internal or external, assesses the organisation's health and safety policy and practices against the relevant legal requirements. This usually involves reviewing company documentation, observing work practices and interviewing employees and managers. Auditors then typically deliver their findings in a detailed report.

Related: What are internal audits? (A complete guide)

Benefits of conducting a health and safety audit

Conducting a health and safety compliance audit has several benefits for organisations. They do the following:

  • Encourages adherence to health and safety legislation: Conducting health and safety audits helps to ensure that an organisation is adhering to workplace legislation.

  • Ensures health and safety policies remain up to date: Health and safety audits help to ensure that an organisation's health and safety policy is up to date and relevant to current working practices.

  • Determines the cause of workplace accidents: In the event of a workplace accident, organisations can conduct a health and safety audit to discover the root cause of the accident.

  • Identifies any potential risks or hazards: A health and safety audit can provide the opportunity to identify any risks or hazards that may be present in the workplace.

  • Uncovers areas for improvement: By conducting a health and safety audit, organisations can identify areas where they can make improvements to their health and safety practices.

  • Shows the organisation's dedication to health and safety: By conducting audits on a regular basis, organisations demonstrate their commitment to protecting the health and safety of their employees.

  • Drives the development of a health and safety culture: By conducting internal health and safety audits, organisations can help to develop a culture within the workplace that focuses on health and safety.

Related: What is external auditing? (A comprehensive guide to audits)

When do organisations conduct health and safety audits?

There's currently no legal requirement for organisations to conduct health and safety audits but due to their benefits, many organisations view them as an important requirement. It's good practice to conduct audits on a regular basis, typically at least once a year. The frequency of regular audits is likely to vary depending on the size of the organisation and the nature of its business. Other times a company might conduct an audit include:

  • following a workplace accident or incident

  • when there are concerns about the company's health and safety practices

  • when there are changes to the company's workforce or working practices

  • after health and safety training, to assess its effectiveness

  • when a company is under new management

  • following the introduction of new machinery or equipment

  • following a major change such as a business expansion, merger or acquisition

Related: What is the duty of care of an employer? (With breakdown)

How to conduct a health and safety audit

If it is your task to conduct a health and safety audit, the following steps may help:

1. Assemble a team to conduct the audit

When conducting internal health and safety audits, you ideally want the auditing team members to be employees from a different department within the company to the one that they're auditing. This helps to ensure impartiality. If a supermarket was doing an internal safety audit, the members of the team conducting the audit could be employees from the company's HR department.

2. Review the relevant legislation

Many laws governing health and safety in the workplace differ depending on the type of organisation. Therefore, it's important to review the relevant health and safety legislation that applies to the organisation each time you conduct a safety audit. This helps define what the law requires auditors to cover and ensures that they assess the organisation's operations against up-to-date health and safety legislation.

3. Review the relevant documentation

Gather and review documentation relating to the organisation's health and safety practices. In addition to the company's health and safety policy, this may include any risk assessment files, safety training records and records of accidents or incidents. At this stage, it isn't necessary to assess the accuracy or completeness of the documentation. Taking this step helps to identify what to audit to ensure that the audit is comprehensive.

Related: A guide to risk assessment (with a risk assessment template)

4. Identify the key areas to audit

Decide which areas of the organisation's health and safety practices to focus on during the audit. A safety audit may include general areas such as the organisation's health and safety management system, employee health and safety training and first aid provision. The exact areas for focus depend on the industry and the organisation's specific activities.

5. Determine who can assess each area and how

Decide who on the auditing team can be responsible for assessing each area and what type of assessment they can use. The assessment approach usually depends on the area the auditors are covering. For example, an inspection is appropriate for assessing the condition of a company's machinery, while interviews would be more appropriate for assessing employees' understanding of health and safety procedures.

6. Plan when to conduct the audit

Safety audits usually involve observing the workplace and speaking to employees. Choose a time when the workplace is operational but that isn't too disruptive to the business. For example, if you were auditing a busy retail store, you might want to avoid conducting the audit during the pre-Christmas rush.

Related: Health and safety responsibilities for employees (with tips)

7. Conduct the audit

Carry out the planned audit activities. This usually involves assessing the company's health and safety policy and working practices against the relevant legislation and safety standards. It's important to be objective when conducting the audit and to look for both positive and challenging aspects of the organisation's health and safety management.

8. Prepare a report of the findings

Start the report with an executive summary giving an overview of the audit's findings. In the body of the report, provide details of each area assessed in a clear and concise manner. State whether the organisation's practices were compliant and identify any good practices. Attach any evidence and supporting documentation, such as interview transcripts and outline recommendations for improvement where necessary.

9. Present the findings to senior management

Present the findings of the safety audit to senior management. They may want to discuss the findings and recommendations with the auditing team and provide their feedback. The organisation's management can then decide what corrective or preventative action the audit requires them to take.

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