We’ve said it many times on this blog: Your organization needs to examine its environment, health, and safety program on a regular basis. It’s the only way to spot potential hazards and compliance issues before anyone gets hurt or gets in trouble with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, or another regulatory authority.
The million dollar question is how?
Do you build a program completely in-house? Do you lean on external consultants to run the program for you? Do you build a hybrid model? Let’s walk through the positives and negatives of different approaches.
As a reminder, there are two kinds of safety examinations:
Inspections are routine checks for immediate safety concerns like unguarded machinery, cluttered working surfaces, and poorly constructed ladders and walkways.
Audits are less frequent, but wider-ranging assessments that comprise everything—not just the physical safety controls, but also less tangible factors such as workforce policy adoption, safety data collection, and efficiency of business processes.
You can certainly tackle both of these without the help of an independent safety professional, but it’s best to weigh the pros and cons before you settle on a path.
In-House Audits and Inspections: Looking at the Pro Side of the Page
If you’ve got the deep safety experience on-staff…and you’ve paired it with the employee engagement and buy-in of a strong safety culture within your organization, you’re on the road to success. There are unique features to your facility, your processes, and your people. And an in-house program can take these into account from the get go. You’ll certainly want to lean on EHS software to help you stay both efficient and compliant, as clipboards and spreadsheets are a slippery slope into more risk and greater expense.
The DIY route is the most cost effective, when looking on the surface. While we REALLY REALLY don’t recommend it, you technically can pull off an audit and inspection program using clipboards, emails, and spreadsheets. But your results run the risk of looking like IKEA fails. When evaluating the DIY route on price, make sure you look at the true cost, beyond the cost of clipboards. The DIY route relies heavily on man hours. And those come at the expense of focusing on other productive tasks. It becomes not just a calculation of how much it costs, but also the opportunity cost of what you could be pursuing instead.
Outsourced Audit and Inspections: Looking at the Con Side of the Page
According to a recent article in EHS Daily Advisor: “[I]f not properly managed, audits can create an incriminating paper trail that can substantiate violations, heighten liability for negligence, and even trigger criminal prosecutions.”
In other words, if not conducted with extreme caution, an audit without a safety consultant can actually increase rather than decrease your risks. It’s like choosing to represent yourself in court—which is where you may find yourself after trying to self-audit.
Why would you lean on consultants for your audit program? It’s a matter of resources, expertise, and perspective.
Con: DIY Audits Lack Resources
The reality is that most safety programs are spread thin. At a typical organization, the in-house safety team spends its days putting out fires (sometimes, literally). Safety managers are too busy responding to incidents, known hazards, and near-misses. They’re unable to get ahead—to anticipate possible risks and prepare for regulatory changes down the road.
At the same time, there are also the endless pressures of training. This is both training for new employees as well as ongoing training for the entire workforce on ever-changing rules and regulatory guidelines. Just making sure people know how to do their jobs safely requires constant vigilance.
Consequently, any “DIY audit” will almost certainly fail to capture numerous details that are perhaps less pressing—but no less critical—than urgent safety and training concerns. To put it another way, most teams are stuck in reactive mode, while the value of an audit is in its proactivity.
Con: In-House Safety Managers Aren’t Always Compliance Experts
Like electricians and endodontists, third-party safety auditors are distinguished by the specialized knowledge they possess. Few people are as steeped in the ins and outs of regulations from state and federal OSHA, the EPA, the Department of Transportation, the National Fire Protection Association, and other agencies. And few organizations have someone on staff who can capably research the various rules and guidelines, stay ahead of updates, and ensure compliance—let alone do it comprehensively and cost-effectively.
Third-party auditors, such as KPA’s safety consultants, come prepared with all the requisite expertise. We combine deep regulatory knowledge with a thorough understanding of each organization’s industry, needs, and priorities, so we can focus attention on the most important things first and ensure nothing falls through the cracks.
Organizations can replicate some of this in-house with free tools, a historical analysis of safety incidents, and basic regulatory awareness (OSHA’s top 10 most cited standards are a good place to start). However, this takes significant time and effort—and every day spent learning is a day that could have been used keeping people safe.
Con: Organizations Don’t See Their Own Problems
Perhaps the greatest limitation of DIY audits is in perspective. People are comfortable with what’s familiar, even when it’s unsafe or inefficient. We stop questioning things, thinking, “well, that’s the way it’s always been done.” As a result, organizations ignore their own shortcomings, write off unsafe behaviors, and neglect to document risks—because they just can’t see them, or refuse to believe they’re really problematic.
Jeff doesn’t wear his safety goggles, Linda neglects to use a seatbelt when she’s operating the forklift, but there hasn’t been an incident yet, so they must be fine, right? A regulator wouldn’t think so.
Combined with the limitations of knowledge and resources, this leads to serious and sometimes dangerous gaps. For instance, we’ve seen numerous written safety plans that fall far short of requirements because they were simply copied from generic templates without any real accounting for the specifics of a given facility or workforce. It looks compliant on paper, but doesn’t match what anyone at the organization is actually doing.
A safety consultant, by contrast, will clearly identify all issues in your facilities and make sure everything matches up, from rules to policies to employee behaviors. We’re able to provide maximum breadth as well as depth, developing point-by-point safety initiatives based on the specific, real-world issues occurring in your organization—compliance-related or otherwise.
If you’ve had an increase in eye injuries, for example, we can create a targeted inspection checklist that covers the proper use and maintenance of safety goggles. If you’ve had several cars stolen from your inventory recently, we can develop a key safety initiative that helps you avoid losses and recoup more insurance in the event of a loss.
Having a third-party auditor on your side means there’s no ambiguity or baggage when addressing these concerns. We have no skin in the game, so to speak. Our job is to know what regulators are looking for and what safety concerns need to be addressed, and to tell you what is and isn’t working well at your organization—exactly as we see it. At that point, we’ll work alongside you to improve and optimize your safety program.
Ultimately, the decision is yours. Make sure it’s well-considered.
Regardless of how your pro and con list turns out, we’ve got the tools to help you succeed. For organizations taking their audit & inspection program in-house, Vera Suite customizable audit and inspection functionality is fully decked out to support your program.
If you’re looking to supplement your program with some outside expertise, we’ve got an army of safety consultants ready to help you succeed.