WSCA- Using SAFE Companies Audits to Evaluate Contractors: Words of Caution for Licensees and Contract Administrators

Issue
Synopsis

Discussion on why licensees can rest assured a SAFE Companies certification is a reliable affirmation of their success in achieving the industry standard of safety, however, if the licensee requires contractors to submit their entire audit report it may create problems and/or have unintended consequences.

I have recently spoken to several contractors that have been asked to provide their SAFE Companies audit reports to clients, to assist the client in evaluating the contractors’ safety program. When selecting and hiring a contractor, a company can rest assured that a valid SAFE Companies certification demonstrates the potential contractors’ success in achieving a standard[1] set by the industry. However, the audit program was not designed to provide comparable numerical scores by which companies can evaluate and select their potential contractors, and was not intended to provide extensive details of company operations to third parties. Requiring contractors to submit their audit report may seem like a convenient way to obtain a large amount of detailed information, but one should be cautious about doing this for several reasons.

 

First, there may be subtle variation between auditors. Large companies (BASE companies in British Columbia) require an external auditor to complete their reports at least once every three years.[2] When reading and evaluating an audit report, one is also judging the attention to detail, communication habits, and perspective of the auditor. The BC Forest Safety Council has taken extensive steps to ensure consistency of audits, including ongoing auditor training and conferences, extensive review of audit questions and guidelines, and careful review of audit reports by Council staff. However, there remain subtle variations between auditors in the ways they conduct audits and write reports. This may translate into occasional differences in the scoring of one or two points in the audit, or may be apparent in the tone of the report and the words chosen to describe the company safety program. There may be particular differences in continual improvement comments, which are not intended to serve as orders to the company but instead function as suggestions on potential ways for companies to improve in the future. Furthermore, the audit represents only a sampling of operations and personnel and a single moment in time, and may not always capture everything that is occurring in the company. Therefore, one must be mindful of these sources of subjectivity when considering reviewing an audit, and be cautious about comparing one company’s audit report with that of another.

 

Second and more importantly, the audit process relies upon a relationship of trust and transparency between the auditor and the company. One of the great strengths of the audit process is that companies feel comfortable with an in-depth review when they know they will not suffer any prejudice based on what the auditor finds. In my own experiences as an auditor, I have had several contractors bluntly tell me that they want me to be brutally honest with them and be as picky as possible because they want to find potential deficiencies in their audit report to they can repair them immediately, rather than discover the issues during incident reports or WorkSafeBC inspections. However, if companies are forced to provide their audit reports for the purpose of evaluation by clients, the auditor-company relationship may become compromised, and companies may become less forthcoming with their auditors for fear of report findings coming back to haunt them later. 

 

This does not discount the audit as a valuable source of information. As mentioned previously, a successful SAFE Companies certification indicates a company has met a rigorous standard set by the industry. If a company wishes to go further in evaluating potential contractors in relation to the audit, perhaps the most insightful method is to ask contractors about their corrective action processes and plans for improvement based on their audit recommendations. Requesting a company’s audit executive summary and the corrective action log (or improvement plan) can provide a useful and insightful window to their safety program, without involving the aforementioned subjectivities and caveats involved in a lengthy review of their entire audit report. This limited focus draws both the company and the contractor into a meaningful discussion in which they can share information about workplace safety and maintain an emphasis on the improvement process, without compromising the original intentions and learning relationships inherent in the SAFE Companies audit. I strongly encourage companies to talk to their contractors about safety improvements, but to exercise discretion in the tools that they reach for in achieving this desirable objective.

 

Jordan Tesluk is a certified external auditor licensed by the BC Forest Safety Council. He also serves as an industry consultant providing input on safety program development to the WSCA and the BC Safe Silviculture Project. He can be reached at jordan@symbioticsolutions.ca.

 

 

[1] For BASE companies, this is set at 80%.

[2] Many companies have an external auditor review their company every year, in order to obtain a critical and objective evaluation of their program. During ‘maintenance’ years in the second and third year, BASE companies may complete their own audits, and these must be examined differently than audits performed by external auditors who possess no vested interest in the company, and remain objective to the outcomes of the audit process.

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