Let us be clear – there is a difference! | IMPAC health and safety

25 May, 2018  |  News

Audit versus Review versus Inspection and then some


By Christel Fouche


Audit, Review, Inspection - these terms are being used interchangeably, leading all too often to miscommunication and/or confusion. There is a clear difference between them. They are all tools that we can use to improve our health and safety performance at regular intervals. Which tool we use should be determined by what we want to achieve.


Let’s clarify the definitions of an audit, a review, and an inspection

An audit is defined as “a systematic, independent, and documented process for obtaining audit evidence [records, statements of fact, or other information which are relevant and verifiable] and evaluating it objectively to determine the extent to which the audit criteria [set of policies, procedures, or requirements] are fulfilled.” In other words, “Are we doing what we said we would do.” [Source]

A review is defined as “a formal assessment of something with the intention of instituting change if necessary or a formal examination by people in authority. This is usually done in order to see whether it can be improved or corrected” In other words, “Are we doing the right thing.” [Source]

An inspection is defined as “to look at [someone or something] closely, typically to assess their condition or to discover any shortcomings or to critically examine.” In other words, “How are our people, equipment, and/or environment.” [Source] 

Both the audit and review are typically done at more of a systems level within the organisation whilst an inspection is normally done at a work interface level. It is important to note that an audit and a review includes the activities of interviewing of workers, observation of the workplace, and reviewing documented evidence.


pexels photo 630839Interviewing workers is an important step for audits and reviews. Photo by rawpixel on Pexels.com


The difference between an audit, a review, and an inspection

Now that we have the definitions out of the way, let’s have a look at the difference between them. The differences become clear when we look at the objective of each activity:

  • The objective of an audit is to assess the quality of the health and safety management system implementation (in whole or in part).
  • The objective of a health and safety review is to assess whether the system (in whole or in part) is fit-for-purpose (given size/nature/culture of on organisation and the objectives they want to achieve) and representative of good practice. [Source]
  • Finally, the objective of an inspection, through a critical examination of people, equipment, or the environment, aims to identify any new hazards or risks, and/or identify where the risk controls may have failed or be missing.


So, what do I use?

Whether you do an audit, review, and/or inspection is based on what you want to achieve. What is important is that the selected tool adds value towards continual improvement of your health and safety management system and/or performance. In general:

  • Inspections such as machinery pre-start checks, critical risk control checks, or housekeeping inspections, should be completed regularly by workers and management.
  • Audits vary in frequency (such as from monthly to three yearly) and should be undertaken both internally and externally, normally by people trained in the application of the audit process (auditors).
  • Reviews also vary in frequency but should be undertaken at least three yearly or after any critical event or as part of any significant change management process.


Using the correct tool will help you gain a true and fair reflection of the actual health and safety status within your organisation. It will not only identify what is wrong (the opportunities) but also what to do about it (how we improve). They are also essential to enable officers to meet their due diligence obligation to verify that the organisation has appropriate systems in place to meet legislative requirements


 About the author:

Christel Fouche is a Principal Health and Safety Specialist at IMPAC. She has over 30 years’ experience in occupational health, safety, environmental, and quality management systems, auditing, consulting, implementation, and training.


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