This article will look at some of the key questions when it comes to health and safety inspections (also health and safety audits) and will review some of the issues faced by business leaders and health and safety professionals alike when it comes to initiating, managing and getting the best results out of health and safety workplace inspections.
An introduction to Health and Safety Inspections
Health and safety inspection programs are not only a proactive leading indicator, but they also form part of building a good health and safety culture. They are a critical part of any health and safety management system.
These programs can take different forms. They can fall into the category of being systemic (i.e. a holistic approach to common safety problems where a whole system of operations needs to be reviewed) or extrinsic (i.e. looking at a single none conformance that may have to be addressed individually).
How often are Health and Safety Inspections conducted?
A workplace inspection can be a planned or an unplanned walkthrough of a workplace or selected areas within the business. Inspections are needed to critically examine all factors (equipment, processes, materials, buildings, procedures) that have the potential to cause ill health or injury.
The information gained from these inspections are often used to identify actions necessary to mitigate any potential hazards. A schedule of planned inspections within any operational business is an essential element of a health and safety program and one which is commonplace in many organisations today.
What requirements are needed for a Health and Safety Inspection?
Requirements for health and safety inspections will differ from business to business. This will vary based on types and complexity of operations, competency level of workers or employees, levels of risk, number of personnel involved as well as the general attitude towards health and safety within the organisation.
Who performs Health and Safety Inspections within an organisation?
- Walkthroughs or tours can be performed by leadership teams to review the overall status of health and safety precautions within a workplace.
- Incident inspections may take place after a significant workplace incident for the purpose of investigating root causes.
- Safety surveys involving health and safety specialists within a business may review more technical occupational health requirements, or general surveys, where particular inspections may be required of dangerous areas and activities within an operation.
Why are health and safety inspections critical to a business?
Businesses simply cannot afford accidents, the purpose of such inspections are to reduce or even eliminate any risks to employees, customers or the general public. These risks could be as a result of poor hygiene, at risk work practices, behaviors, or simply as a result of inadequate policies and procedures to safely govern such operations within the business.
Consistency of application is key. The most successful businesses regard health and safety as a priority. It is as a result, that leaders of such businesses set key performance indicators in order to ensure these programs are consistently conducted and become embedded within operational requirements.
Why do Health and Safety Inspections take place?
Health and safety inspections can take place for a number of reasons. These can be performed by:
- Governmental bodies as part of monitoring compliance to legal country requirements.
- External audit teams with the aim of certifying an organisation to a given standard.
- Internal inspections as a part of an internal audit or a periodic inspection program.
Most health and safety inspections will generally fall into one of the three above categories. The extent of the inspection and the skillset of the audit team will differ based on the type of inspections mentioned.
Both the external audits as well as audits conducted by government authorities normally take a more systemic approach by looking at the overall management system in place to manage health and safety requirements within the business. Inspection teams in such cases are also likely to be more specialised both in terms of technical health and safety competencies as well as their expertise in the particular sector of operation they are assessing.
How to prepare for a Health and Safety Inspection?
To ensure that all items are covered during the inspection, it is useful for an inspection team to develop a checklist which contains a reference, in brief points, to all potential hazards. It is likely that this list will differ depending on the workplace. For example, it is unlikely that a checklist for a chemical process plant would contain the same hazards as a checklist used to assess the risks within an office environment. It is therefore crucial that any inspection program or document used within the business is flexible enough to allow for changes or additional comments.
These checklists should never be considered as permanent lists. They should be reviewed and added to or revised as necessary. When new machinery or processes are introduced, changed, or when an accident has been experienced and previously unsuspected hazards have been revealed.
What standards should be considered in relation to Health and Safety Inspections?
International, regional or countrywide health and safety standards need to be considered when preparing for any type of health and safety audit. Such standards could look at various areas of risk within a business such as managing work at height, confined spaces, electrical work, working guidelines around hazardous chemical, risks from machinery as well as various physical, psychological and ergonomic health risks. Where particular machinery or equipment is used, it may be necessary to review some of the manufacturer’s literature around safe working practices.
Levels of employee involvement within the inspections must also be considered. In March 2018, the International Standard for Health and Safety Management Systems (ISO 45001) was released. One of the main areas of focus within the new standard has been employee participation in health and safety decisions. As a result, many organisations have now began integrating employees and contractors from different sections of their operations into the various health and safety committees and inspection programs.
How do Health and Safety Inspections take place?
Whether the inspection takes place by an internal or an external team, the methodology normally follows the same logic of planning a site inspection, developing a checklist with the list of areas to be visited, choosing the competency and expertise within the inspection team, conducting the walkthrough and finally a closing meeting to set out actions and assign responsibilities.
The goal of the audit is to assist in the continuous improvement of the organisations health and safety procedures. The audit should at the very least consider the following:
- The risks and the levels of those risks within the inspected area.
- Effectiveness of current safety procedures and controls
- Review compliance to legal requirements
- Potential areas of improvements in safety practices
- Availability of resources to manage health and safety requirement.
How can technology better support Health and Safety Inspections?
The use of health and safety software has become more commonplace over the last few years, to an extent that many companies utilising such software have drastically increased participation while enhancing the efficiency of the process.
By removing much of the administrative part of the data collection side of inspections, many of the day to day safety auditing requirements operational personnel had been tasked with in the past, have now become obsolete. With the result being a leaner and more efficient data analysis and reporting process.
Previously document-heavy health and safety methods involving accident investigation and root cause analysis, behavioural based safety observations, near miss reporting and non-conformance reporting, can now be done at a much faster pace, allowing for better overall data capture and better analysis.
What happens after a Health and Safety Inspection?
At the end of every inspection, it is important that the information obtained is reviewed carefully and where identified as a significant risk, corrective action taken. This is not always a straight forward task and much of the observations and findings may be required to be assessed by subject matter experts to provide a clearer pathway to the best course of action.
The results of the health and safety inspections are indicators of the success or failure of management policies and practices and should be examined for possible changes. Although all identified hazards should ultimately be eliminated or minimised, the responsible section leader must be informed of hazards presenting an immediate danger so that corrective action can be taken in a timely manner.
Is it necessary to perform a review after a Health and Safety Inspection?
During final discussions after the inspection, a review may highlight requirements for training, insights as to why certain areas present more overall incidents, establishing priorities for corrective actions and identifying areas where either resources or further in-depth analysis may be required. When considering action plans, it is important to prioritise the risk controls using the hierarchy of controls. This action plan should be discussed amongst the team and agreed upon before deciding to set corrective actions.
The findings can sometimes be used to identify trends and help monitor the effectiveness of a company’s health and safety program. For example, many organisations who may implement a behavioural based safety program may utilise such opportunities to conduct behavioural observations or identify nears misses that may have taken place throughout the walkthrough.
There may be times when a remedial action is not available straight away. In such cases, it is important to give a reasonable period of time for action close outs and reasons why a longer timeline may be required.
Through creating, committing, and actively participating in proactive and streamlined site inspection programs, organisations can collectively evaluate and better control risks within their workplaces.
It is essential that business leaders set the precedent to such programs and ensure they are given the high level attention they need. Team leaders need to clarify the direction, motivate participation and help align such inspections with the organisations overall goals and visions.
About the author
Adel Lawson is a HSE Professional with over 18 years in corporate, oil and gas, consulting, aviation, construction, facilities management and manufacturing environments.
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