You have to audit your processes. I remember my first job after I graduated from college because that job made people uncomfortable. I was amazed at how people became so nervous when I introduced myself. I was only 23 years old – how could I intimidate people? I guess they were nervous because I was an OSHA Compliance Officer and “I was there to help” – if you know what I mean. After all, doesn’t everyone want an unannounced visitor from the Department of Labor?
The irony of my job with OSHA is – I was 10 times more nervous than the people I inspected. I am nonconfrontational and introverted. I don’t like to identify a stranger’s problems. Even after more than 200 inspections, the nervousness never went away. Even though the anxiety never subsided; I became more confident in my job because I learned the OSHA standards and how they applied. I learned how to interact with people and answer their questions with self-assurance. When I did not have the answer, I knew where to get them. Overall, the experience and repetition made my job easier.
As you develop your audit program, participants will gain confidence with experience and repetition as well. Listed below are six elements that will make your field audit program successful:
- Participation is vital. Anyone who supervises or directs employees should conduct audits appropriate for their area of responsibility. When leaders support the audit program with their participation, they instill a sense of urgency in the program and their presence should drive corrective action.
- Audit frequently. Participants should perform audits every week. There is more value in frequent short audits than long drawn out audits because people accumulate expectations. They know if you look for risk on a regular basis, it prompts them to prepare – if you audit less frequently, preparation is less frequent. The bigger risk, the more you should assess the risk.
- Participants have to develop confidence with their audits. Leaders drive the success of the audit program with their confidence in their ability to identify and correct safety observations. When I started with OSHA, I was nervous for two reasons: 1) I did not know what to look for in most environments. 2) I have a reserved personality. I overcame both obstacles with experience. I built on the knowledge I gained at each site I visited. Coach and encourage participants and allow them the opportunity to learn how to identify risk and confront the issues.
- Identify standards to which you will audit. What if OSHA did not audit to a preselected set of standards – what if OSHA had the authority to make rules up as they go from site to site? As the one being audited, you would never know how to prepare. So, give people an opportunity to succeed – tell them what you will look for each time you conduct an audit.
- Follow through with corrective actions. Document all observations – be sure you have explained clearly what the issues and noncompliances are; then, monitor corrective actions. Keep in mind that long-term true corrective actions eliminate hazards. If you correct it today and it resurfaces tomorrow, is it really corrected?
- Hold leaders accountable! If you expect a certain level of performance, do not let people perform less without consequences. Record, track, and eliminate repeat observations – then reward those who do well. A good audit program is a great tool to see who has what it takes to influence and lead. If one can’t manage safety, one can’t manage the rest of the business effectively.
You have to give people a chance to perform well. But when people fail to perform, you have to take aggressive action. When my sons were eight, six, and four, they shared the same room. You can imagine how clean their room looked. One Saturday I decided to correct the problem. I put them in their room and pointed out the mess. I gave them suggestions on how to neaten their disaster zone.
I told Caleb, Jacob, and Luke they had one hour to clean their room. If they passed my inspection, they could come out of their room. If they did not clean their room in one hour, I promised them I would clean it my way.
They whined and disagreed for a solid hour and they did not accomplish one thing! So, I was true to my promise. I went into their room to clean my way. I packed trash bags full of toys and took them away. All three boys wailed with dissatisfaction, “Daddy, don’t throw our toys away.” I had one response, “You should have done what I asked.”
Their room stayed clean after that. And no, I didn’t throw their toys away! After all, the punishment DOES have to fit the crime. But it WAS several weeks before I gave the toys back to my boys. The moral of the story is that at some point, you stop asking and you start administering consequences. The key is to make sure people understand that there is a limit to how long noncompliance or inaction will last before there are consequences. My boys could have cleaned their room in ten minutes and enjoyed their Saturday. They learned from the experience.