Saving Lives through Proactive Deep Dive Safety Audits

At a Tulsa, Oklahoma manufacturing facility in April 2023, a worker suffered fatal injuries during the pressure testing of a heat exchanger. After three Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigations and 36 regulatory violations later (25 of them serious!), the company was fined a proposed total of $275,890. For a multi-million-dollar company, this seems like a small “price to pay,” it gives little comfort to those of us in the safety profession who know that – without a doubt – the senseless cost of a life due to failure to be proactive with safety measures is infuriating.

With a high risk of serious injuries or fatality (SIF) rate that fails to decline measurably across all industries, incidents like the one in Tulsa, OK and the discovery of multiple OSHA regulatory violations after-the-fact indicate that it is imperative that organizations do more to pave the trail of accident, injury, and SIF prevention. While it seems obvious that simple regulatory violations and errors, and safety management system flaws are major contributors to life-altering injuries and fatalities. Deep-dive comprehensive safety audits can be instrumental in addressing these problems.

Here are some common reasons why organizations should spend the time and effort to perform comprehensive safety management system audits:

  • Ensure OSHA requirements are met.
  • Align company operations with industry best practices.
  • Reduce incidents, injuries, illnesses, and SIFs in the workplace.
  • Assess the appropriateness of recordkeeping for your safety and health operations.
  • Detect and identify safety hazards proactively.
  • Evaluate the efficacy of management controls.
  • Assess employee engagement, knowledge, and training.
  • Improve efforts to protect workers, the public, and the operating environment.
  • Evaluate processes and equipment to seek potential flaws or issues.
  • Ensure that safety documents, policies, and procedures comply with contractual and internal business goals and standards for excellence.
  • Reduce risk and fine tune implementation.

Regular worksite safety audits and inspections generally offer a step-by-step process to catch safety violations in real time, fix them, and gradually shift your organization toward a cohesive organizational culture that champions safety. Deep-dive audits build upon this foundation and provide additional scrutiny and analysis to help keep employees safe, avoid legal risks, increase efficiency, and ensure compliance. Deep-dive safety audits a systematic review of how a worksite is implementing safety practices to improve compliance with standards.

A deep dive audit is a combination of several different points of scrutiny of an organization’s safety management system components.  Deep dive audits represent a more robust assessment and organization’s safety programs and include, among other things, a focus on sustaining and improving current safety performance in a two-pronged approach. The best deep dive safety audit programs are those that integrate all these types of safety audits to ensure that safety is approached comprehensively at your worksite. 

For internal safety audits, it’s important the people in charge of conducting an audit are from other departments so there are no conflicts of interest. Staff who will be conducting regular safety audits should be trained by qualified health and safety professionals in conducting audits. It’s also important to do regular external safety audits with qualified professionals. It doesn’t do anyone any good to choose a firm that does not have extensive experience in the industry within which an organization operates that cannot provide compliance guidance via training and consulting support.

A skilled auditor will review programs, policies, and procedures for compliance and relevancy and be critical of how or if these documents are clear, useful, implemented, and continuously reviewed and implemented through management of change procedures. Communication of lessons learned throughout all company operations will also be reviewed. Although checklists can be effective tools at assisting in safety management system auditing, there is great benefit from clear, fair criteria associated with each component being reviewed with an accompanying scoring system. If you gain knowledge on what you need to improve, it is useless if these findings are not accompanied by information as to how to improve, how much to improve, and what constitutes going above and beyond to protect the organization’s workers. Finding out that you have safety violations is only half the battle. An effective worksite safety audit program documents violations and deficiencies, the systemic reasons for them, and immediate and long-term actions that can be taken to mitigate risk.

Tailoring deep dive safety audits must come with an organization’s specific industry best practices and regulatory compliance in mind. A good auditor will also look at hiring client contracts and safety requirements to determine if bridging documents between owners and general contractors, and between general contractors and subcontractors, are adequate and in alignment. Overall management system audits detail the results of program and compliance audits, interviews with employees, observance by walkaround inspections of work in progress and work completed. The culmination of a deep-dive comprehensive audit can take the form of a report and should include a debriefing of organizational leadership on what is needed to improve.

Hiring outside auditors can substantially help your organization to evaluate, redesign, retool, and effect good implementation of your safety management system with the goal of reducing the likelihood and severity of risks and potential incidents, injuries, and SIFs. By following these tips for performing deep dive safety audits, an organization can reduce the risk to workers, worksites, and the organization. Having a better assurance that you are being preventative, and that all an organization’s workers will go home safely tomorrow is worth taking the time to do safety audits well and perhaps paying a little “extra” to do things right the first time and then continually improve.

Good audits are good business.James A. Junkin, MS, CSP, SMS, ASP, CSHO is the chief executive officer of Mariner-Gulf Consulting & Services, LLC and the chair of the Veriforce Strategic Advisory Board and the chair of Professional Safety journal’s editorial review board. He is Columbia Southern University’s 2022 Safety Professional of the Year (Runner Up) and a much sought after master trainer, keynote speaker, podcaster, and author of numerous articles concerning occupational safety and health.