And when all of the hard work of gathering completed audit forms is done, data must be consolidated in a format that—fingers-crossed—will prove useful in determining the actions that will result in measurable change. It leaves one to ask, “Is it worth the effort?”
Internal audit benefits
Despite the challenges, there is much to gain from internal audits that are both well-planned and conducted on a regular basis. The benefits include the following:
- Internal audits help to prevent accidents/errors by uncovering hazards/potential risks that might, otherwise, not be known (until it’s too late).
- For supervisors and employees, internal audits promote accountability, improve awareness of defined procedures, and enforce safe workplace behavior.
- Internal audits help to prepare all involved in the process for external audits that may carry penalties or fines.
Internal audits also arm an organization with data that reveals the strengths and weaknesses of a program. This information can be used to gain strategic insight into changes that are needed (eliminating much of the guesswork) and track improvements over time.
Removing the barriers to effective internal audits
Putting into place an effective, repeatable process for conducting internal audits requires, first and foremost, clear intent and careful planning.
Fortunately, there is no shortage of resources that cover the process of creating and assessing internal audits. Best Practices For Your Next Internal Safety Audit stands as one such example. The article provides the following, seven useful tips:
- Make it clear to all involved that the focus of your internal audit is about the program and not about assigning blame to individuals. As with the creation of a successful and sustainable process for reporting near misses, the fear of retribution on the part of employees can be a major obstacle to establishing a culture of safety.
- When possible, on-site observation and examination of physical records can help to confirm that procedures are being followed and often provides an additional level of insight.
- Welcome the input of everyone involved in the audit process—supervisors, committee members, workers, etc.
- Transparency with your team around the audit process, benefits, and the results of internal audits is critical.
- Use every piece of information you obtain to assess strengths, weaknesses, and to foster thinking about how improvements can be made and measured.
- Schedule internal audits at regular intervals in order to reveal opportunities for improvement on a continual basis and to measure program success over time.
- When hazards are identified, close the loop by acting on findings, applying corrective actions that are followed through to completion.
In addition to the process, another roadblock can be the tools used to conduct internal audits. Most common is the use of spreadsheets, which come with problems that are well-documented and include the following:
- Wasted time and reporting lags
- Increased likelihood (and proliferation) of errors
- Inability to collaborate with stakeholders
Add to this the fact that those responsible for gathering completed audit forms must, for example, send “one-off” reminders to request completed audit forms or follow-up on incomplete responses and dig through email inboxes to find if corrective actions have been completed.
Using paper forms, spreadsheets, and managing communications related to an internal audit process means a more time-consuming, difficult process. Another result is that the valuable data collected is neither centralized nor accessible for reporting until responses are rekeyed or copied and pasted into a single master spreadsheet.
RMIS offers a solution to internal audit roadblocks
The right technology can help remove the roadblocks and reduce the burdens typically associated with internal audits. An article that outlines trends from the recent Origami Risk user conference provides a glimpse of what this looks like:
“Converting paper forms, circulating spreadsheets, and long email chains into simple, trackable digital forms and audits provide several benefits. First, the entire process becomes open and visible at every step. Next, metrics provide rates of compliance, identify bottlenecks, and suggest process adjustments that managers can use to improve the effort. Lastly, with data now reportable (instead of remaining stuck in a file cabinet or warehouse box), the organization gains new insights based on actionable intelligence.”
No one looks forward to internal audits. But with the right process and the right technology, internal audits can help to ensure compliance and drive safe workplace behavior. They can also be used to prepare the organization for external audits, should they come. Perhaps most importantly, they provide the data that shows how programs are performing and where fixes are needed. Or, put another way, “You can’t change what you can’t see. And you can’t see what you don’t audit.”