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Sustaining Your Safety Sweep Audit Process

Dec. 13, 2012
Your audit data can be leveraged to positively impact important facets of your safety administration process.

In the November 2012 issue of EHS Today, I introduced the concept of the safety sweep audit as a supplemental tool for the detailed safety inspection mechanism commonly used in industry.  The article explained the basic contents of sweep audits, listed the basic elements of a process loop to administer sweep audits and offered simple examples of how all may be integrated. This article furthers the discussion while focusing on sweep audit integration and how your audit data may be leveraged to positively impact important facets of your safety administration process.

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At Milliken & Co., we take these four steps to optimize the return on our sweep audit investment:

1.  Trend the Data

Your template information (scores and discrepancies by audit element) should be entered into simple spreadsheets at the final destination to create trend analyses for your audit process. Trend charts of overall scores posted in each of your audited work zones become compelling metrics to review during shift meetings or toolbox talks. Keep it simple; manually posted scores on area run charts serve to increase involvement and conserve your resources. Ensure your data clearly signifies the level of safety performance for the work group over the course of time.  This is the message to deliver, and this is the metric that sustains expectations.

Trending of discrepancies is of prime importance to your safety process. Significant, revealing gaps appear in mere weeks of capturing each audit element from all audit work zones. Commonly, certain audit items will show repetitive failures over time. Zone-by-zone tracking of items that repeatedly fail acts as a predictor of the potential means for injury or potential means of other losses, and it provides a visual indicator to managers and safety professionals of where corrective actions would prevent such losses.  You can target responses (training, supplemental supplies, procedural change, capital expenditures, etc.) to prioritize the variety of needs for each of your work zones.  Through trending, your site will become more proactive and less reactive in its safety process administration.

2.  Track  the Corrective Actions to Completion

As calls for corrective action (work orders, replacement item procurement, etc.) emerge within the sweep audit review loop, it's important to maintain visibility of these corrective needs until they are completed. Create and maintain a tracking sheet of open-versus-closed needs so you satisfy this objective. Best captured at the point of final destination, this method allows you to share this data at various levels. As a final thought, closure of needed corrective actions positively impacts your site in two ways: It helps you reduce the potential for injury or other losses and is a trust-building activity for employees who become first-hand witnesses to improvements taking place. Tracking sheets with routine updates are effective tools that close loops on corrective needs before they escalate into losses.

3. Establish Metrics

A method of cascading feedback through your facility should be established as a means to measure response to sweep audit data and related corrective actions so you maintain all gains. Any number of metrics can be established to help sustain the audit mechanism, and metrics should be selected with consideration to operational fit. Milliken & Co. emphasizes the use of the metric Percent Completion of Corrective Actions Submitted, and doing so significantly impacts several levels.  A low percentage of completed corrective actions indicates audit mechanism failure while a high percentage builds heightened levels of employee engagement, sustainability and provides leading indicator evidence that you are on the correct path to increased site safety.

4.  Solicit Site Leadership Participation

Most site leaders utilize a daily operating system whereby data stimulates decisions or actions. Organizations with an aggressive safety administration process use specific leading-indicator metrics in their operating systems. These dashboard metrics help leaders understand the current status of the safety process and allow them to take action in order to reduce potential losses. Other organizations rely solely on indicators such as TIIR as their primary metrics, but these types of lagging indicators provide little data that will move these organizations toward addressing loss prevention.

The sweep audit mechanism with its trending and tracking processes provides a wealth of significant metrics for site leaders to use as leading indicators of safety performance within their operating system. Good leaders use the best indicator metrics available and use hard data to both drive and sustain their sites' safety performance improvements.

Motivation to improve is communicated through you as a leader. Offer feedback and reinforcement to employees using safety metrics zone by zone during your Gemba walks or through other operation patrols. Recognizing the results of crews or individuals in normal safety meetings further motivates every employee and tends to elevate the importance of daily safety expectations.

Finally, to drive the reduction of potential loss, focus on the completion of open corrective action items. Regularly review your audit trend data to help identify improvement needs. Cascading these activities through the operational hierarchy will create ownership of safety performance, which intertwines with the objective of the sweep audit itself.

Mike Powell is in his 32nd year with Milliken. He's served manufacturing, employment/education, human resources and safety roles across 11 different manufacturing sites and five technologies. Currently, he leads safety system implementations at several leading client organizations as part of Performance Solutions by Milliken, Milliken's consulting services group, which helps clients successfully navigate toward safety and operational excellence. To learn more, visit

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