Maintaining your safety, environmental and quality management systems is a big job. In many cases it is a full-time occupation and most organisations strive to develop and maintain a management system that aligns with “best practice”. Its success or failure is measured directly by its use and application by those that rely on it, including the workers at the point of risk.

Internal and external reviews and audits are often undertaken to verify the system’s performance and the assessment goes something like this:

  1. There is or isn’t a system
  2. People know or don’t know it
  3. People use or don’t use it
  4. It works or doesn’t work (it meets or doesn’t meet its intended objectives).

Audits (either internal or external) seek to determine whether the system as written is complaint with the relevant requirements, but also whether the workers know and use the management system. If the system requires workers to wear pink hats, this is what an auditor will be looking for. If the system requires workers to undertake three site inspections per day, this is what an auditor will be looking for. If the system requires unicorns and rainbows, then this is what the auditor will be looking for!

And this is where things usually go amiss. Workers almost always look to get the job done in the most time-efficient and easiest way. If system documents are lengthy, contain unreasonable or unnecessary steps, are not clear and concise, or are difficult to locate or access, then human nature tends to kick in and bypass these. Local solutions (or workarounds) are then developed that in most cases do the job efficiently and at most times, safely, but the problem remains – the theory (i.e. management system as written) says one thing, but the practice does another. And that is how your management system will hang you out to dry when the Auditor comes knocking – or worse, the Regulator when a serious incident occurs.

Of course, there are legislative compliance requirements when it comes to safety and environmental management. There are also Australian Standard and ISO requirements that HSEQ management systems must include if certification or compliance with these Standards is desired. Sometimes what your system says will be legislative- and Standards-driven, and at other times it will be worker- and practice-driven. Either way, at the end of the day, it is essential that what is documented within the system is what occurs in reality.

Internal audits and inspections are your way of identifying these non-compliances before it matters most. These activities are not just checklist compliance tick and flicks, these are also opportunities to talk to workers and to understand why work activities are deviating from the documented process or procedure. The answers here might surprise you and will lead you down different paths to rectification. Talking with your workers and involving them in the solution is paramount to gaining worker commitment, long-term management system compliance and ultimately (in the case of WHS Management Systems) safer workplaces.

Please contact QRMC for more information.