Auditing - the very word can scare the most seasoned safety professional. The fear of finding the unknown has kept many people from doing the necessary task of reviewing and examining the policies and procedures put in place to keep people safe. Compare this to not going to the doctor because you are afraid of the diagnosis.
An audit is defined as a systematic, methodical review of safety policies, procedures, rules and regulations. The goal is to determine how current systems are working and if they can be improved through revision, reworking or revocation.
An audit is not simply:
A discipline tool, or
Something done on an ad hoc basis
A checklist is a tool, often used during an audit to ensure the auditor remembers everything they need to assess. For example, you can use a checklist to determine if there are enough fire extinguishers or whether or not safety meetings were conducted. An inspection is another tool to evaluate things and behaviors. Inspections provide a snapshot of current conditions but does validate whether systems and procedures are working properly and if not, why they aren't.
Audits, when done correctly, provide an assessment of the overall management system that is in place to manage the fleet and fleet risk. Audits may be formal or, informal and conducted by external or internal auditors. One example of an informal audit is one performed routinely by a supervisor with oversight responsibilities. By design, formal audits yield a final written work product that should be reviewed by those held accountable for policy implementation. Once language is agreed upon, the report should guide corrective and preventive action plans.