Safety inspections should not be done simply for the sake of checking a box. A proper strategy needs to be employed, ensuring observers are engaged in the most meaningful and sustainable way. Currently, there is little clear direction on what a safety inspection entails. A company’s safety manager may see it as one thing, while a superintendent regards it as something completely different, and so on. This is understandable given differing job roles and responsibilities, personal experience, work-related risk, and many other factors. What has been universal in my experience in safety is the belief that most everyone holds, regardless of their role on the site, that they must perform a full inspection of the entire job site every time they go out to do an inspection. Most inspectors, however, are not prepared to do this either due to training (or lack thereof) and/or time constraints. Conducting a comprehensive inspection every time one is required is simply not a feasible goal. My proposed solution is to develop a two-pronged approach that employs both general and focused inspections.
A general inspection is a comprehensive walkthrough of the entire facility and anything and everything could be looked at in great detail, depending on what the inspector comes across. This could be completed as one large inspection or broken into several, smaller inspections. It is still a general inspection as long as the entire job site is inspected at least once over a pre-determined period (such as weekly for a construction site). Due to their encompassing nature, general inspections typically take a substantially longer time than a focused inspection.
A focused inspection is just that–an inspection focused on a particular task, area, contractor, or hazard. For example, when an inspector performs a general inspection, he/she may not catch the full details of everything they see, and simply document whatever they happen to come across during the allotted time. For example, when walking the entire job site, you may document that you saw some fire extinguishers, however, did you stop and verify an extinguisher was provided for every 3,000 square feet of construction space? Did you verify there was an extinguisher at every stairwell? Did you check all extinguishers for an up-to-date annual inspection tag? Are all the provided extinguishers charged? Now, if you proceed to schedule a focused fire protection inspection, the entire inspection will consist of looking just at those items and nothing else, effectively ensuring these items are observed as needed.
Focused inspections also work great for in-field engagement. As a rule, safety managers can devote longer to an inspection consistently (from week to week) than field staff (engineer, project manager, superintendents). Additionally, safety managers can sustain this type of inspection activity for the duration of a project. If field team members are tasked with doing an inspection that takes many hours, it will be very difficult to repeat every week for the duration of a project. However, if they are tasked with just doing a focused inspection based on the needs of the safety department and dictated by the data in the system, ~ 15 minutes can be reserved for an inspection to support the process. This will provide meaningful involvement from the field and the data will support broader initiatives dictated by safety managers and EHS staff. In addition, this will provide staff development in the form of inspection directives.
Scheduling a focused inspection utilizes the power of both experienced inspectors (safety directors, regional managers, etc.) and the available data within the system. Regular general inspection findings should lead to additional, focused inspections. As an example, a safety director walks the job site and notes that housekeeping is poor. This would lead to a detailed, focused inspection looking at just housekeeping to pinpoint the exact nature of the issue.
Besides focusing on the problem areas, collected data (both safe and unsafe) should elicit trending to determine what is observed the least, or not at all. From that information, scheduled, focused inspections can be used to ensure that a particular item is regularly analyzed. Specific examples of these types of inspections include fire protection, hazard communication, environmental, administrative, confined spaces, and other infrequently observed hazards.
An inspection process often inaccurately takes for granted that every inspector understands what each hazard subcategory statement means. For example, when an inspection includes the subcategory “guardrails” does the inspector know guardrails have to be 42 inches high with no greater than 3-inch deflection and the mid-rail should be at 21 inches? Should they know how guardrails should be constructed properly? It should not be assumed that the observer understands how to assess every hazard that may be present on a job site. Training is needed to continually improve the knowledge and observation skills of any employee. Breaking out observations singly or in logical common groups makes it much easier to pass along this knowledge. As with any complex skill development, this process should be developed gradually over time.
By having field staff do inspections in this focused manner, they won’t be overwhelmed with seeing dozens of hazard categories and hundreds of related subcategories. In addition, they can better understand the things their organization feels are important in the field. Going forward, focused inspections can be developed to continually develop employees and bring inspection programs to the next level.
Cary comes to the SafetyStratus team as the Vice President of Operations with almost 30 years of experience in several different industries. He began his career in the United States Navy’s nuclear power program. From there he transitioned into the public sector as an Environmental, Health & Safety Manager in the utility industry. After almost thirteen years, he transitioned into the construction sector as a Safety Director at a large, international construction company. Most recently he held the position of Manager of Professional Services at a safety software company, overseeing the customer success, implementation, and process consulting aspects of the services team.
At SafetyStratus, he is focused on helping achieve the company’s vision of “Saving lives and the environment by successfully integrating knowledgeable people, sustainable processes, and unparalleled technology”.