Easier EH&S Auditing

IF you type the phrase "EHS audit" into any of the Internet's more popular search engines, it just might take you longer to read through and decipher the search results than to actually perform a simple audit. Instead of finding information on the auditing procedure, you'll be linked to the Web sites of hundreds of companies willing to help you with your every EH&S auditing need.

From training to software to actually doing the audit for you, EH&S auditing products and services appear to be big business. And why not? While there's not a specific law that requires companies to perform EH&S audits, they make good business sense. Ensuring a facility is in compliance with company policies and governmental regulations protects the company from expensive lawsuits, protects employees working at that facility, and can potentially reduce waste disposal costs. In addition to financial motivators, EH&S audits demonstrate a commitment to the environment, which not only helps the planet, but can be great for PR, too.

But professional EH&S auditors and auditing staff will be the first to admit it's a difficult task to comply fully at all times. Laws, operations, and employees constantly change. The audits themselves are time-consuming and require detailed assessment, recording, action, and follow-up measures, not to mention a paper trail that can be miles long. Fortunately, technology better than an Internet search has come to the rescue with software products to aid at every step of the process.

Regulatory Compliance
Several software products, including Dakota Auditor by Dakota Software, are unique in helping a user determine which regulations apply to a particular facility. Dakota Auditor's Decision Tree LogicSM guides the user to answer a series of screening questions from which the system generates relevant checklists and regulatory references that apply to the facility under review. Each checklist question instantaneously links to the specific regulations. Updated regularly to reflect regulatory changes, this feature assures the user that no relevant regulations escape his/her attention and saves large amounts of time.

Designed to be a research and teaching tool, Dakota Auditor records findings with instant "red flags" for non-compliance items. It enables the user to maintain a regulatory profile that is automatically updated after each audit so improvement can be measured over time. The program systematically points out deficiencies across many facilities, which is specifically helpful for baseline ISO 14000 audits. Designed to be intuitive, Dakota Auditor is simple and easy to master. The company plans to release a Web-based version by the end of this year. The program is currently only available in English.

Easier Assessment, Paper Reduction
Traditional EH&S auditing is conducted by an auditor who manually gathers audit information on paper and then combines that information into a meaningful report. The paper-based process can be time-consuming, fraught with errors, and require a constant duplication of effort.

Software programs such as Q5 Systems Limited's Q5 AIMS can help to eliminate the paper burden. Q5 AIMS works with all types of field-enabled hardware, such as Palm OS and Microsoft Windows Pocket PC, virtually eliminating the need for handwritten notes and input errors. Able to integrate any type of questionnaire, checklist, or form, the program replaces binders, notebooks, and clipboards. Q5 also allows you to visually document your audit, inspection, or observation findings with a digital camera and link or embed the photos within your reports.

Featuring a Web-based application, the Q5 system can be accessed from anywhere in the world and can be integrated with a company's own secure servers. An included calculator allows users to score audit questions, yielding a report card that can be used to set goals and measure progress over time. Somewhat complex, Q5 can take hours to weeks to implement, depending on the platform.

Tracking Corrective Actions
An audit isn't over once a facility has been assessed and problem areas identified--it is pointless without corrective actions and follow-up. Syntex Management Systems' IMPACT Safety® Performance Management System and other, similar software products can help you track corrective actions from the original identification of a problem through complete remediation. The program can initiate and attach multiple corrective actions to any audit item result, assigning those actions priority levels, target dates, status, and responsible parties. It also can automate notifications, reminders, approvals, closure, and verifications tailored to an organization's processes.

IMPACT Safety is designed to be configurable and does not require code changes for most desired customizations, reducing maintenance costs. It can be integrated with an existing IT system but must be configured for specific regulatory compliance. While the program does not currently include wireless capabilities, a Web-based version is available.

A Business Essential
In a 2000 report commissioned by The Auditing Roundtable entitled "State of the Profession: A Survey," professor Richard Ratliff notes EH&S auditing "reduces legal liability and improves both operating and financial performance." In a survey conducted prior to that report, the majority of U.S. businesses that responded, including some with more than $1 billion in revenue, had or planned to implement audit programs.

It seems EH&S auditing programs are or soon may be essential to business. With these and numerous other money-saving software solutions available, you don't have to be a billion-dollar company to have one.

This article originally appeared in the October 2003 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Valerie Weadock is a former associate editor of Occuaptional Health & Safety

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