Weighing the pig never made it heavier: Auditing OHS, social auditing as verification of process in Australia

Verna Blewett, Valerie O'Keeffe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Citations (Scopus)


South Australian organizations assess their OHSMS through audits as evidence of risk control and to help make workplaces healthy and safe. Auditing is an evaluative process regarded as an important step in the cycle of continuous improvement in OHS. Auditing began with financial audits conducted for reasons of corporate governance: for accountability, to inform management decisions and to provide market confidence. Society expects audits to be a tool of regulation, governance and accountability, but celebrated failures of audits to warn of impending financial collapse in organizations in recent years appears to have led to an increased fervour for auditing, rather than a decline. Social audits, including auditing of OHSMS, are intended to determine that an organization is meeting its corporate social responsibilities; but what is audited is often contested and requires subjective analysis. Financial and social audits are subject to failure: unintentional errors, deliberate fraud, financial interests causing undue influence, and undue influence from personal relationships between the auditor and client. We identify five further categories of failure: lack of worker participation; paperwork for the sake of the audit; goal displacement of audit scoring; confusion of audit criteria; and lack of auditor independence and skill. There has been a shift in focus: the current demand and preparation for auditing distracts organizations from the primary goal of making the workplace healthy and safe. We argue that auditing OHSMS has become a ritual rather than a means of improving workplace health and safety and should at least be treated with caution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1014-1021
Number of pages8
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Audit
  • Audit failure
  • OHS audit
  • OHS management systems
  • Social audit


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