Inspections are one of many tools you can use to check whether your workplace, people or process are functioning as expected. Equally they provide an opportunity to routinely identify improvements across your business. However, so many people can find them daunting, struggle to engage people in their value or are simply getting no benefit out of the process.
Who can do health and safety inspections?
Anyone can do a health and safety inspection. However, you need to consider whether that person is competent. For example, do they understand what is happening in the workplace and the risks that are, may be present.
Whilst not mandatory it is helpful to try and create some impartiality with inspectors so that they can remain open to identifying issues and suggesting changes. This can be harder to achieve when people inspect their own work areas as they are less likely to raise issues if it is perceived as a weakness of their own performance. Similarly, they may also be thinking about any extra work created by raising an issue or improvement opportunity.
How often should I do a health and safety inspection?
The number of inspections and the time spent doing them will vary from business to business. Even within a business it will vary depending on several factors – so where to start? When it comes to health and safety inspections a risk-based approach is commonly used to establish where to inspect, and how often.
Start by identifying all the work areas within the business and then the operations that take place within them. Visit these areas if necessary and consult with people in these areas to ensure you have captured everything. Make sure you consider out of hours workers, seasonal work and ad hoc work (e.g. maintenance) that takes place.
Armed with a list of these areas and activities you can then start to consider the factors which will affect the frequency of inspections. Consider:
Size of operation
Larger operations should be visited more frequently. Consider visiting different parts of this operation each time.
Look at the risk assessments for the areas/activities. You will want to check higher risk areas more frequently as the harms will be greater if controls are not effective in these areas.
Check the log to see where injuries are happening. It would pay to inspect areas where incidents are trending more frequently to ensure controls remain effective.
As a starting point you will need to establish how much time you, or nominated people, can spend inspecting these areas.
At risk people
Areas or activities with people specifically at risk need consideration (e.g. young persons).
If shift work is carried out are all shifts getting checked or just the day shift?
One approach would be to score each area based on the above factors and use that to apportion time available accordingly. E.g. the highest score will have the most time spent on it out of the inspection time available.
Should I record inspections?
It is always important to record inspections and collect evidence so that it can be effectively shared with the relevant people. This also enables you to refer to previous conditions with a degree of accuracy – especially where inspectors change.
Download our free health and safety inspection form (no details required just download it).
These can be stored hard copy or digitally. Our preference is digitally so that the information is easily shared. There are numerous apps and software solutions that allow this to be done.
Mix things up
Whilst planned inspections are important to continually monitor all work areas there is value to carrying out random inspections from time to time. Allow space to do this in your, or your inspectors, schedules.
Random inspections are best used following health and safety issues in a particular area. e.g. following an incident to any changes to controls remain effective. Or, perhaps you have seen a rise of near misses in a certain area – it would be good to inspect that area to try and capture any issues and resolve them prior to an injury occurring.
Don’t get stuck in a rut.
Avoid the common pitfalls of health and safety inspections.
They must add value
Quite often an inspection regime in the workplace will yield very little results. If that happens it means a lot of time is being wasted carrying out inspections and it will not add value to your business. If inspectors are really struggling to find any issues in a workplace then they should switch their approach to looking for improvement opportunities. This way value is always being added for the time spent. In fact, many organisations monitor the number of non-conformances and opportunities for improvement yielded by inspections to ensure they remain effective.
Do not stand still
Review the effectiveness of your plan. Change it as necessary to accommodate new activities, work areas and people.
Look and Talk
When visiting the work areas sample documents or check they are available (e.g. risk assessment). Speak to people to check their awareness of risks and controls. Also get their view on the effectiveness of controls.
Remember, inspections should be adding value to your organisation. Try not to over complicate what you are doing. If you are at all unsure a great place to start is to simply go out into the workplace with a notepad and camera and jot down anything that you feel could cause a health and safety issue. Straight away you can easily raise actions to sort these out or, if necessary, add them to your risk assessment.
Other useful tips include:
If you cannot find any issues but if that is really the case then switch your attention to identifying opportunities for improvement. Challenge the status quo.
Always check the risk assessment. This document should capture the risks in the workplace and document the controls in place to control them. A comparison of this to reality or checking that people understand what controls apply to them is a great objective way of identifying any shortfalls, gaps or new issues.
Carry out inspections at different times of day. If you regularly work out of hours then don’t restrict inspections to normal office hours.
Always record improvement actions and close them down. Seek professional help if you are unsure on how to resolve an issue.
If you have inspected an area previously check what you found last time and double check the issues have not returned.
Speak to people. This is the most important part yet so often neglected. Ask if there have been any problems, near misses, safety issues etc. Ask how they ensure they remain safe.
In conjunction with the above make sure you listen to what safety representatives and workers have to say when you are carrying out inspections.