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Safety Inspection vs. Safety Audit

Written by Steve Hudgik March 2013

OSHA Best Practices Guide
OSHA Safety Signs Best Practices Guides

What's the difference between a safety audit and a safety inspection?

A safety audit program involves systematically going through the workplace to evaluate safety programs and practices within an organization. A safety inspection likewise involves systematically going through the workplace, but in this case looking for safety hazards or lapses in safety practices. Both are important components of a workplace safety plan.

Safety Inspection

A safety inspection looks at the physical conditions and work practices in a workplace. Equipment is examined to determine whether all safeguards are in place and whether its operation presents any hazards. Air, water, and other samples may be obtained to test for hazardous substances. Work practices are observed to identify unsafe actions.

The overall goal of a safety inspection is to identify hazards so they can be eliminated, guarded, or protected against.

Safety Audit

A safety audit involves measuring and collecting information about the reliability and effectiveness of the safety inspections, programs, training, plans and systems within a workplace. The relationship between a safety inspection and a safety audit is that a safety audit is used to determine whether the safety inspection is returning accurate, reliable, and complete results.

A safety audit is verification that the safety programs are working.

Safety Inspection, Safety Audit Similarities

In some cases a safety inspection and a safety audit have the same objectives - they both strive to determine whether the workplace is in compliance with all safety codes and standards. In both cases a safety checklist might be used, listing items to be checked and the OSHA standards that apply. The biggest difference is that the safety inspection typically would be done by someone who is familiar with the workplace. The safety audit should be done by someone from outside the workplace, or at least from a different facility, department, or work area.

Safety Inspection, Safety Audit Differences

The major difference is that a safety audit also looks at the safety inspection process. For example, a part of a safety audit would involve examining the checklists used for safety inspections to determine if they are complete and up-to-date. The audit would also look at the inspection plan to evaluate whether inspections are being conducted by the appropriate people, on an effective schedule, and in a complete and comprehensive manner. The safety audit also looks at the overall safety plan, the management of that plan, and whether correction action is being taken when a safety issue is found.

The Importance of Safety Audits

Safety audits are an important component of your overall safety plan. They are typically done on an annual basis and will help to keep your safety program effective, and help to ensure you are in compliance with OSHA and other safety codes and standards. For example, over time the workplace can change as habits develop, machines are modified or replaced, and new work practices are introduced. These changes impact safety, and the safety audit is used to ensure the safety plan and safety inspections have been modified to adjust them for the new conditions.

Are Safety Audits Required By OSHA?

Safety self-audits are not required by OSHA, but they are seen by OSHA as an important part of a workplace safety plan.

How does OSHA treat safety self audits?

OSHA's does not routinely request safety self-audit reports at the beginning of an inspection. OSHA has committed to not using safety audit reports as a means of identifying hazards prior to an inspection. However, looking at self-audit reports is seen by OSHA as an important part of their inspection and the OSHA inspector will ask to see the safety audit reports.

Should a voluntary self-audit identify a hazardous condition, OSHA then looks at the following:

  • Has the employer corrected hazardous condition prior to the start of an inspection?
  • Has the employer taken appropriate steps to prevent the recurrence of the condition?

If both of the above are true, OSHA's policy is to not issue a citation.

When a voluntary self-audit identifies a hazardous condition, and:

  • The employer promptly undertakes appropriate measures to correct the hazardous condition.
  • The employer provides interim employee protection.
  • The hazardous condition has not been completely corrected when an OSHA inspection occurs.

OSHA will treat the audit report as evidence of good faith, and not as evidence of a willful violation of OSHA standards.

The information presented in this document was obtained from sources that we deem reliable; Graphic Products does not guarantee accuracy or completeness. Graphic Products, Inc. makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied. Users of this document should consult municipal, state, and federal code and/or verify all information with the appropriate regulatory agency.

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