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INDUSTRIAL SAFETY Safety audits for high-risk industrial operations

Apr 15, 2021

Hemant Sethi, Country Head, British Safety Council, India - Industrial safety is more than just protecting workers; it is about enhancing productivity and increasing revenue growth, too. One element that helps determine maximum safety in the industries is safety audits – it helps regulate the overall safety & environment of an organisation. Leading a workplace safety audit is an utmost complete way to measure the effectiveness & efficacy of a company’s entire health & safety management system. The article by British Safety Council, which is dedicated to making sure that no one is injured or made ill at work, finds out how an audit for high-risk industrial operations works and how companies can benefit from it.

It is estimated that more than four million people die from injuries across the world. Going by reports, there were over 400,000 deaths due to unintentional injuries in 2015 in India itself. Experts also agree that the manufacturing industry contributes significantly to injury morbidity and mortality. In fact, workplace-related accidents in India claim an average of about 48,000 lives every year. After road traffic collisions, workplace accidents are the next major cause of injuries in India.

Injuries can put a huge burden on industrial workers who are already financially constrained. Apart from having to bear hospitalisation and treatment expenses, they also face a decline in earnings & rehabilitation cost. Moderate and severe grade injuries may lead to poor quality of life and have long-term psychosocial impacts.

Accidents due to fires, fall from heights and mishaps during freight handling are some common workplace hazards. And many a time, such accidents are caused by minor lapses in processes.

Companies should take note of the fact that workplace mishaps may have far-reaching consequences in the long run. Without undermining the risk to human life itself, one should also consider the damage to machinery, equipment and property, leading to production delays, which can take a significant toll on business. This may adversely impact the commercial viability of a business.

In the aftermath of an unfortunate incident, most companies are seen spending money on mobilising manpower and other resources to investigate causes and implement remedial measures to prevent such incidents from happening in the future.

Industrial accidents and consequent deaths can be prevented. There is no doubt that the prevention efforts would lead to large gains, both in terms of human life and business profits. It may therefore be wise for businesses to consider a proactive approach in mitigating any crisis arising out of high-risk operations. And this is where the need for a safety audit for high-risk operations arises.

What is a high-risk operation safety audit?

A high-risk operation safety audit is an in-depth audit of situations that could potentially cause serious injuries and harm to people & property and assists organisations in focusing on these activities. The audit actively looks at high-risk activities, such as working at heights, confined space entry, lifting operations, ground excavation, electrical safety, fire safety management, contractor safety and specific areas, like molten metal. Also, leadership commitment & accountability, risk assessment & management and permit to work are reviewed in detail. The audit process involves a greater level of interaction with staff, site rounds and review of documentation.

How does an audit for high-risk industrial operations work?

A high-risk operation safety audit is a deep dive into the controls of hazardous activities and the effectiveness of existing safety initiatives related to the prevention of serious injuries. The audit is a quantified, customised approach that benchmarks an organisation’s current safety performance level concerning high-risk activities against global best practices. A suitable and customised approach is created in an audit report form that meets the organisation’s requirements. The findings from the audit will give the organisation visibility of where they stand in terms of high-risk activities, identifying opportunities for improvement. This is then followed by a consultancy that will help strengthen the areas that require attention through recommendations, knowledge sharing and training.

The audit process requires active participation from all employees of the organisation. It is mainly divided into four key phases:

  1. Leadership commitment and planning

  2. Implementation and operation

  3. Performance monitoring and measurement

  4. Evaluation and continual improvement

How companies with high-risk operations can benefit from a safety audit

Studies have shown that occupational safety regulatory compliance is a necessity that must be addressed and integrated into routine business practice. This is especially true for businesses with high-risk operations. Non-compliance can expose enterprises and individuals to unnecessary injury, risk and liability questions. These issues can be prevented or at least identified & corrected through effective safety auditing.

Going by the findings of a study that aimed to evaluate workplace safety performance and the impact of the safety auditing process, the benefits of auditing can be both tangible & intangible.

Some of the intangible benefits of safety audits are –

  • It can help with building an effective employee hands-on hazard reduction learning tool

  • A safety audit can help in setting up a forum for identifying safety hazards, root cause analysis and implementation of corrective actions

  • It can lead to increased employee awareness and positive behaviour towards safety

  • Safety audits can help with achieving established benchmarks for safety performance, injury-related cost avoidance & reductions and continuous improvement

  • A safety audit can help improve the factory safety record with fewer accidents, injuries, near misses and physical hazards

  • It can facilitate root cause analysis and corrective actions to eliminate hazards

  • An audit can set the ground for providing on-the-job training for team leaders and shop floor employees

  • It can help achieve heightened safety awareness for factory safety hazards

Some of the tangible benefits of safety audits are –

  • It can help put in place an employee-based team approach for every department safety audit

  • A detailed checklist covering items can be prepared as per industry standards

  • It can help set the process with pre-audit meetings to review the checklist, answer questions and develop audit routes facilitated by the management

  • Safety hazards and corrective actions can be documented

  • Post-audit discussions can be reviewed for hazard findings and corrective actions

  • Post-audit meetings for the corrective actions can be conducted to review progress, answer questions and ensure safety findings are being addressed

For companies running high-risk and hazardous industrial operations, a safety audit should be made a priority. The management should review & work on improving its safety and health management system continuously, so that its overall safety and health performance across all functions improve constantly. Companies should be committed to continuous improvement involving the development of policies, systems and techniques of risk control.

A comprehensive & thorough audit will help evaluate and addresses potential high-risk areas and provide opportunities to improve & strengthen them in line with the best practices. A high-risk safety audit helps build confidence in the safety system and its ability to prevent injuries & fatalities. It will help the management to understand high-risk areas of work and the situations that could cause serious harm and the control that needs to be taken. An audit process will also help the management focus on areas of high-risk rather than looking at all activities in an equal manner. All in all, a safety audit for high-risk operations will help create a happy, confident and safe work environment for everyone.

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  • A safety audit for high-risk operations will help create a happy, confident and safe work environment for everyone

  • Non-compliance can expose an enterprise and individuals to unnecessary injury, risk and liability questions. These issues can be prevented or at least identified & corrected through effective safety auditing.

  • Hemant Sethi

    Country Head

    British Safety Council, India

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