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Safety Inspections vs. Safety Audits: What’s the Difference?


When it comes to assessing the effectiveness of workplace safety programs there is no “right” way to do so. OSHA citations, missed workdays and employee complaints all reflect parts of a company’s culture of safety. 

However, safety inspections and safety audits approach the challenge of worker well-being from different angles. Safety inspections look for hazards, risks, and other tactics that might prevent a company from operating safely. Safety audits examine whether programs and strategies are meeting a company’s goals.

Both are important components of a workplace safety plan. Below is a closer look at the relationship between the two:

Safety Inspection

A safety inspection looks for safety hazards and unsafe practices throughout a facility. An inspection should:

  • Determine whether safeguards are in place
  • Examine whether the equipment presents any hazards
  • Gather air, water, and other samples to test for hazardous substances
  • Observe work practices to identify unsafe actions
  • Once identified, rectify eliminate, or account for any hazards

Safety Audit

A safety audit evaluates safety programs and practices within an organization. Employers conducting an audit should:

  • Measure and collect information about a safety program’s reliability and effectiveness
  • Look at whether a safety program meets the company’s stated goals
  • Examine safety training and response efforts

Similarities and Differences Between a Safety Inspection and Safety Audit

There are several similarities between safety inspections and safety audits. For one, both strive for a safer workplace that complies with all regulations and standards. They also both utilize safety checklists that include relevant OSHA standards, best practices, and other recommended precautions. Lastly, even though audits are not required by OSHA, OSHA views both inspections and audits as components of an effective safety plan.

There are also a couple of key differences between safety inspections and safety audits. One difference is in scope. An audit reviews safety programs and strategies, while an inspection examines current tactics and routine employee actions. Another difference is in who performs the inspection or audit. Safety inspections are usually performed by those familiar with the workplace, while independent employees (whether from outside the company or in another department) conduct a safety audit.

How Does OSHA View Safety Audits?

OSHA does not request safety audit reports before conducting an inspection. That said, OSHA may request audits as part of an ongoing review.

Should a voluntary audit identify a hazardous condition, OSHA looks at the following:

  • Has the employer corrected the hazardous condition before an inspection?
  • Has the employer taken appropriate steps to prevent a recurrence?
  • If a permanent solution isn’t in place, has the employer-provided interim employee protection?

If the above statements are true, OSHA will treat the audit as evidence of good faith and will not issue a citation.

Martin Safety offers an in-depth Martin 8-hour OSHA Training that teaches your employees how to identify, prevent and rectify workplace hazards. Learn more or call OSHA Authorized Outreach Trainer, Malcolm Ritchie, BS, QSSP, HMTRI at 265-627-0804.