The Only Way To Do a Safety Audit Properly

Safety AuditorI wrote this one a while ago and it encouraged some great comments. I was reminded of it by a recent comment on another article about auditing being nothing but a game we play so I thought I would dust it off and put it out there again. I can now add this related article to the list of further reading: Objectivity, Audits and Attribution When Calculating Risk.

A great comment from that post: “I believe one big bias stems from the purpose of the audit. If an audit is conducted for certification, the participants will probably do their best to convince the auditor something is in place, even if they know it is not quite true. It can also be that a participant may hide some facts because presenting it may lead to extra work (especially true in internal audits). This may not be malicious – if I believe the item that is not in place is not important, I may be more likely to “hide” it.”

I also find the new concept of the “Critical Thinking Clock” to be extremely useful. It was designed for investigations but applies equally well to audits. See it here https://safetyrisk.net/a-much-better-way-to-think-about-incident-investigations/

The Only Way To Do a Safety Audit Properly

The term “safety audit” conjures up some pretty strong feelings in most people. Many say that their perception is that a safety audit is all about finding something that they are doing wrong. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The most important key to a successful safety audit is the attitude of the auditor. In my early days I sat and watched, with disgust, a lead auditor sit there in his suit, with his laptop and fire questions, very condescendingly at the auditees. They would start to answer and if they went a little off track he would put out his hand, look down his nose over his bifocals and say “STOP that is not the question I asked” He got bugger all out of those people and he missed some really good comments because they didn’t follow his script. The next day he wasn’t there so I apologised for him and we did it properly. A lot of the auditees said they went home feeling sick and even cried to their partners because they were made to feel stupid or like failures. The end score was actually one of the best I have seen. That “knobhead” (and that isn’t him in the photo but a very good likeness) would surely have failed them because he thought they were unco-operative! Derrrr! This guy stopped only just short of saying “ah hah busted” if he found a non-conformance! (or a “violation” as he liked to call them)

I refuse to work anymore with auditors who rub their hands together and get more pleasure and satisfaction out of finding non-conformances and violations and their own perceived self importance and power than they do about finding good things and supporting the auditee. People have no problem with you finding non-conformances if it is done in a constructive way and perhaps you provide them with a solution – plenty of times they will even volunteer info about things that they aren’t doing properly – stuff they could easily hide from a Spud Head!

I don’t use a checklist anymore, nor a laptop and rarely even a pen and paper. Those things just put the auditee off. I cringe when I hear an auditor say “hang on just give me a moment to type that in or write that down”. My best advice is to just go in and let them talk to you about their system and get them to show you stuff. Let them talk, let them run off on tangents, it’s all good info. So what if they aren’t following your numbering system, you should know the audit tool like the back of your hand and can direct them back on track when necessary. Write it all up later, if you forget something they are more than happy to get a phone call later. You’ll be on your way home straight after a nice lunch/debrief with some new friends, with all the info you need, while at 5pm Spud Head is still sitting in a room of pissed off people typing in the response to Q 4.3.1.7a

The end result is always better for all parties than the formal policeman/judge/authoritarian approach – and you get invited back again! I get a big thrill out of getting phone calls or emails from auditees long after the audit to tell me how they are going or about the latest thing they have developed and wanting an opinion or, most or the time, some praise.

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