WHS Audits – Are they value for money?

I have referenced an article written by Peter Rogers titled “Is it time to stop internal auditing


“To me, most internal and external audits are very poorly done.  A quality control wonk or supervisor asks closed questions from a defined list. 

The answers are yes or no, or sometimes, “here is the procedure you are asking for”. 

The auditor then goes away to his or her office (alone) and based on the 20 answers tries to find something – anything! – to report, the aim being of course to make it seem as though the audit was worthwhile and useful to the organisation. 

These sorts of audits are the epitome of checkbox mentality. The checkbox mentality is at best a waste of time, and at worst is potentially damaging to your business. 

In my experience audits are a great opportunity for everyone to step back and honestly appraise what they do, and why they do it. 

They are a time to get around a table with your colleagues or your suppliers – or, gasp, your customers! – and really take a good hard look at how things are going, and how things can be improved. 

  • They should be all about open-ended questions. 
  • They should be about having the customer in the forefront of your minds. 
  • They should be about discussion and analysis, not inspection.  They are an opportunity to raise your head above the everyday busy-ness of business and get creative.

While I know that Deming would have been very anti-the checkbox mentality, I can’t help but think he would have been a supporter of tools that make you focus on the important stuff.  

I reckon he would have applauded any organisation that routinely asks itself the hard questions.”

My experience and focus of my article is around Mining operations, Construction, Chemical Processing plants and Agricultural projects in Australia.

I believe we certainly suffer from “inspectionistis” – a disease described by doing many and ongoing set piece inspections based on yes / no answers and may be a comments column and a description of the non-compliance.

The outcome of this disease is to waste the valuable time of key personnel who are not doing what they are hired to do – e.g. supervision and add masses of useless data to the company reporting system and turn out pie charts and the like for corporate reporting KPI purposes which provides a warm and comfortable feeling to those decision makers who do not understand their business.

The data can contain some gems which highlight issues, but in many cases does not differentiate between critical and non-critical issues and they do not tackle individual and systemic root causes. – Lots of white noise here and value can be easily lost.

The value of  a WHS audit can be substantially increased where the auditor observes where business processes can be inproved as well as reducing safety risk at the same time. It is about making a Safe $$.

A recent audit idenified a manual handling risk in a fruit processing factory – the solution was to install an extra conveyor – Fruit processing  time  and manual handling risk were substantially reduced at the same time  – Capital expenditure costs were low.

I  have been involved in the WHS auditing game for many years and believe they are a very valuable tool providing the following items are in place.

  • The auditor has a wide technical and practical oversight of the business being audited – In other words the auditor has to do substantial homework prior to the audit being done.
  • The auditor has relevent engineering or trade qualifications and experience in the industry
  • The auditor must be prepared to learn  and adjust “On the Run” , be forensic and have an eye for detail in their approach and gather evidence based data to support findings.  The “Inch Wide and Mile deep” style. The Pipa Alpha and Longford disasters may have been predicted if this approach had been adopted.
  • The auditor must be appreciative of the influences of the organisational culture and leadership styles and how this affects the audit findings.
  • The auditor must provide comments and verification of compliance / good and bad practices in the audit report and close out meeting.
  • The audit report must be value adding to the customer – It must contain practical suggestions and recommendations for improvement – this is a quality based approach.
  • Face to face presentation of the audit findings and recommendations provides an opportunity for the customers to understand and query the auditor and inprove the auditors expertise.

Rather than stop auditing and cease dependence on inspection; my view is that we need to determine and adjust the inspection and auditing regime to ensure they are providing value and these tools are customised to suit the business.