What is Occupational Safety and Health Audit

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Based on the book Health, Safety and Environmental Management Systems Auditing by Gene Marie Shematek, Paul MacLean, Peter Lineen.

Health and safety management system basics

In order to audit a Health & Safety Management System (H & S Management System) and provide valuable recommendations to the organization, you must have a clear understanding of what constitutes an effective Health & Safety Management System.

This article will help you if you are a management system auditor:

-without an extensive experience in managing Health and Safety
-with years of experience, in which case it will provide you with a brief overview of the ideal management system elements.

After reading the article, you will be able to identify:

  • the 10 primary elements of an effective H & S management system that you should check during an audit
  • examples of activities that support each element

Also, here is a complete checklist for the ISO 45001:2018 standard to help you audit your OHS management system.


The goals and benefits of an H & S Management System


H & S Management System has two primary goals:

  1. to ensure the health and safety of those covered by the system
  2. to ensure an organization is diligent with regard to regulated responsibilities


Some of the benefits of an H & S Management System are:

  • a decrease in costs due to workplace injury or illness
  • a decrease in cost associated with property or material loss due to incidents
  • higher morale and better labour relations


Since organizations can apply the H & S System activities to other areas of operations, the benefits go beyond just health and safety.
For example, a critical aspect of health and safety is the active engagement of the frontline employees in driving Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) improvements and activities. This involves training employees to identify priorities and solve problems. Employees easily translate this thought process to other aspects of operations like production, customer relations, and sales,
leading to profitability and cost control.




Although compliance is not usually assessed during an H & S audit, as a conscientious auditor you must identify the provinces in which the company operates and verify legislation and codes (building, fire, sanitation, certification) applicable to the organization accordingly.


Components of an Occupational Health and Safety Management System


health and safety management system


Primary elements that impact the health & safety performance of an organization and that you should check during a management system audit are:

  1. Management Commitment
  2. Hazard Identification
  3. Hazard Control
  4. Workplace Inspections
  5. Incident Investigations
  6. Employee and Manager Training
  7. Emergency Response Plan
  8. System Administration and Quality Control
  9. Other Aspects
  10. Leadership in Best in Class Systems



1. Management Commitment

Genuine management commitment is fundamental to the success of an H & S Management System.

Signs that demonstrate management’s commitment to the H&S Management System are:


-Health & safety policy

This is the first and essential indicator of management’s commitment to health and safety.

Management has a formal written policy that they present at employee orientations and post in conspicuous places in facilities and on the company website.

In addition, the management has a process in place to enforce the policy including ramifications for not complying with it.


-Health & safety values and beliefs

Actions reflect the commitment to health and safety. The why’s and how’s of the actions reflect the values and beliefs.

Like conscience, values guide decision making in challenging situations. 

Some example statements of an organization’s values and beliefs are; “All incidents are preventable”, “We start and finish with safety”.

To determine how far down the leadership has the management communicated the safety policy, you should interview employees at all levels on values and beliefs.


 -Strategic direction and operational planning

Management has a clearly thought out strategy in place to achieve the tenets of the health and safety policy. In addition, they have well-developed plans to operationalize the strategy with specific goals, metrics and accountabilities.

Strategy Plan
Direction Objectives
Goals Metrics and timeframes
Oversight Responsibilities


 -Discussions at the management table

Management always brings forward issues that impact the well-being of the staff and regularly reviews reports on health and safety performance and incident trends.


-Messages from senior executives

Senior executives periodically communicate the importance of health and safety either through formal or informal walkthroughs, newsletters, or presentations.


-Active employee involvement

Employees are fully involved in HSE initiatives.

Some examples of active employee involvement are; employees leading crew talks, employees designing prevention activities, training co-workers etc.


-Performance evaluation and employee recognition

Management evaluates line managers based on their contribution toward the organization’s overall health and safety program. 


-Provision of OHS resources

Management allocates sufficient resources to implement the health and safety policy, in any form needed. For example training, time-off for training, dedicated health and safety personnel for internal support.


-Regular reporting on health and safety performance

Management ensures regular reporting on health and safety issues at all levels of the organization.

Senior executives regularly receive leading and lagging indicators of the health & safety performance and frontline employees too are up-to-date on the H & S performance of the organization.


-Roles and responsibilities for health and safety

Management has written down roles and responsibilities for all levels of staff including contractors and visitors.


-Hazard Management

Management is aware of the hazards involved in the work and supports processes that proactively eliminate or correct hazards before employee injury.


2. Hazard Identification

The management realizes that a hazard identification process is a key to injury prevention.

Management has reviewed all jobs and their related environment, material, and equipment in detail to identify hazards following the process below:

  • listing all critical steps in each task;
  • identifying the hazards that may cause injury or illness; and
  • identifying effective control measures to reduce the risk of injury or exposure.

They have addressed both health and safety hazards including identifying all types of risks—biological, chemical, physical, and psychological.

They have classified the risks based on:

  • the frequency of occurrence
  • the severity potential
  • the probability of occurrence


They have used the risk assessment of hazards to determine priorities for implementation of controls.

They understand the physical requirements of performing tasks to select employees who can perform the job without injury.


3. Hazard Control

Management has ensured that the control measures are implemented for all identified hazards.

They have made efforts to eliminate the hazard by changing materials and procedures based on the Hierarchy of Controls (engineering, administrative and personal protective equipment) and use personal protective equipment as the last resort.

They ensure that controls are maintained and used properly.

They have a comprehensive preventive maintenance program for equipment to ensure the removal of malfunctioning equipment.


4. Workplace Inspections

Management ensures frequent workplace inspections (using a checklist) to identify and control hazards.

Workplace inspections involve systematic evaluation of the work area to identify and correct hazardous conditions. 

For each identified hazardous item, management has taken and documented a corrective action.


Inspection Steps

  • Identify potential hazards
  • Identify controls for hazards
  • Monitor effectiveness of corrective actions
  • Provide ongoing assessment of the corrective actions

Key things to look for:

  • Emergency procedures manual current
  • Safety Data Sheets
  • PPE use, care and maintenance
  • Deviations from safe work practices
  • Housekeeping
  • Signage
  • Exits, alarms, emergency lighting, drills, etc.
  • Electrical wiring cords, etc.


If performed regularly and documented well, workplace inspections prove an organization’s “Due Diligence” in providing healthy and safe work environment.


5. Incident Investigations

Management’s focus is primarily on health and safety systems to prevent incidents from happening but they do learn from incidents or near misses using an effective reporting policy that includes:


  • types of incidents to be reported
  • the timeframe for reporting
  • process for reporting
  • immediate follow-up that occurred


Their primary goal of an incident investigation is to gather and analyze information on the conditions that might have contributed to the incident in order to determine the root causes.

Their incident investigation program not only identifies the precipitating factors leading to the incident but also delves deeper to find the fundamental causes. 


The 5 major causal factors in most incidents are: People, Time, Workplace conditions, Procedures & tasks, Equipment and materials


6. Employee and Manager Training

New employees receive health and safety training during the orientation before he/she starts working.

Management provides them with information on:

  • general hazards;
  • processes to report hazards; and
  • emergency response procedures


The employees are given more training once on duty, on specific job hazards, safe working procedures and evacuation plans.

Management continually assesses the quality of training for effectiveness and improvement and verify employees’ understanding of the training.

Managers receive training for:

  • maintaining a safe workplace;
  • dealing with hazards to which the employees are exposed;
  • managing unsafe behaviour; and
  • including safe work practices as part of employee performance.


Employee and manager training is key to due diligence


7. Emergency Response Plan

Management has a detailed emergency response plan in place, including a process to identify all potential emergencies like terrorist attacks and outbreak of infectious diseases.

There are in place the following First-aid procedures and plans:

  • first-aid kits
  • fire extinguishers
  • biological/chemical spill kits
  • emergency eyewash
  • emergency equipment eg. respirators
  • emergency communication devices


They have trained all staff to respond appropriately to emergencies, the training being supplemented with drills. The management has maintained all the necessary training records.

They conduct drills for most emergency response procedures and not just for fire, for eg. bomb threat, severe weather etc.


Drills help in the identification and correction of deficiencies in the emergency response.


8. System Administration and Quality Control

The management and employees communicate with each other after they identify and document issues and hazards.

There is a formal process in place to achieve this objective.


9. Other Aspects

Worker Compensation claims, Occupational Health Services, and Wellness plans are linked to the health and safety management systems.


10. Leadership in Best in Class Systems

What is your HSE culture

Although every great company has a different view of what is fundamental to their safety program, some features common to all best in class companies are:

  • Unwavering commitment to safety from executive through front-line level
  • Motivated and engaged workforce
  • Resources that ensure a sustainable EHS program
  • 24/7 mindset to risks




The major elements of an effective H & S management system include the management commitment, effective planning, implementation, corrective actions, training and ongoing maintenance.

It is essential to understand the elements of an ideal H & S management for you to audit an organization.

As a good auditor, you must go above and beyond the general know-how and stay informed of things that might not be essential during the audit but can indicate the general attitude of the organization toward their employees’ and the environment’s welfare.