Implementing an Effective Field Audit

By Bobby Purvis

Effective Field Safety Audit

One of my favorite quotes is by Ezra Taft Benson, “It is better to prepare and prevent than it is to repair and repent.”

Prevention is always better, more accessible, cheaper, and safer than remediation – whether we’re talking vehicle maintenance or personal protective equipment (PPE). Take the time to double check your safety items and fix or replace any that are in need. One solution that can aid in preventing incidents is conducting a safety audit.

Safety audits are primarily to check the effectiveness of the various programs, they do not take the place of regular facility inspections. Facility safety inspections for hazards and their control should be performed every week by supervisors and every month by management.

There are four basic questions a safety audit should answer. The person or team designated to conduct the audits should take a fact-finding approach to gather data. These auditors should be familiar with company programs, as well as various local, state and federal requirements.

  1. Does the program cover all regulatory and best industry practice requirements?
  2. Are the program requirements being met?
  3. Is there documented proof of compliance?
  4. Is employee training effective? Can and do they apply specific safe behaviors?

A well-designed field audit

By talking to customers and industry analysts over the years, I’ve come to believe that a well-designed field audit program must support and achieve the following (at a minimum): data access, an audit database, data automation, effective distribution, an interactive review process, and next-generation mobile auditing.

A well-designed field audit can provide a wealth of insights to strengthen business performance in organizations. However, each audit is only as good as the processes, people, and technology involved.

  • Automation and integration. Save time and costs by finding a way to automate your field audit workflows. Auditors should ideally be free to focus on important processes such as analyses of findings and issues, rather than tiresome data entry and formatting tasks. Integration of field audits with other processes in the audit lifecycle is also important. Many organizations are adopting a centralized system to manage the entire audit lifecycle, thereby ensuring better consistency, control over, and visibility into audit processes and data.
  • Mobility. Mobile audits simplify and expedite audit processes and fieldwork by doing away with papers and spreadsheets. Field auditors have the flexibility to enter data anytime and anywhere, while also capturing images and videos via camera-enabled tablets. These files can be used to support evidence of audit findings. Meanwhile, GPS-enabled mobile audit devices can capture the geospatial coordinates of the field location, thus improving the accuracy of audit data. If there is no network connectivity in the field, offline audit capabilities can help auditors enter and save data as they usually do, and later sync the finding with a central audit database.
  • Real-time visibility. Maintaining all audit work papers in a single point of reference makes it easy and convenient for field auditors to manage, store, access, download and assign these documents. Similarly, with multiple field audits taking place at different locations across the enterprise, it is important to have a centralized and real-time picture of each field audit. Audit managers need to be able to monitor the progress of the audit against pre-defined milestones to ensure that each activity is on track. Quick audit reporting is essential as well – field auditors must be able to compile and report their findings as quickly as possible in both draft and final report form to enable informed decision-making.
  • Agility, adaptability, and auditability. A well-designed audit program must be auditable to ensure that the program is running as you expect. Agility and adaptability are other critical factors. Implement audit methodologies and systems that can adapt to, evolve, and scale up with your business processes and objectives. New stores, new processes or future mergers and acquisitions will dictate that your audit methodology changes over time.

At a time when businesses are rapidly expanding and new risks and compliance requirements are constantly emerging, it is critical to get real-time, on-the-ground insights into your operations. Experienced field auditors play an essential part in spotting key risks and issues, leading to proactive performance improvements. However, they also need effective processes and systems. Automated, agile and mobile-enabled audit workflows, coupled with powerful data management and reporting tools, cannot only help efficiency but also enable a deeper, more sophisticated analysis of audit findings.

Bobby Purvis is the manager of safety consulting services at ACRT. He is a highly trained and seasoned environment, health and safety (EHS) professional with more than 25 years of experience in industrial, civil, manufacturing, general industry, construction and R&D industries. Purvis has a proven track record with worldwide recognition for his efforts in the creation and implementation and sustainability of EHS programs. He has served in a variety of roles including EHS director, government consultant, director of safety, compliance coordinator, safety supervisor and more. Purvis is an OSHA-authorized trainer, National Safety Council instructor and Department of Transportation trainer, along with other various certifications. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Health and Safety from the University of Maryland and a Master of Science in Aeronautical Engineering from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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