Eye on Safety
Our chief motivation for having safety inspections should be to prevent one of our work family members from being hurt. If we can identify hazards and correct them, we fulfill the adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
For this to work, we must have the proper procedural structure in place. I have seen safety inspections take place, and nothing is done about it. In fact one general contractor executive told me, “It’s just a paperwork thing. It’s going in a file, incase OSHA ever asks for it.” For the inspection to have any practical good, it must be conducted with certain essential elements.
Conducting the inspection
Several key elements to conducting an inspection should be worked into a companies’ safety policy. Some of the following points will need to be customized to your individual company structure, depending on who is doing the inspections. Remember that situations will be handled differently by the superintendent, safety director, project manager, CEO or VP, safety committee member, or third-party consultant.
Authority: The person doing the inspection must have the authority to do so and, if not, make the corrections, and then immediately pass the information on to someone who does. Management and owners must ensure the report is acted upon, or it will be an exercise in futility.
Immediate Correction: As mentioned, if a hazard or violation is found, prompt corrective measures must be taken. It is irresponsible to see a person in danger, but then do nothing about it. The only exception to this is the limit of the inspector’s authority. Regarding your own employees, stop the workers exposed to the hazard and make immediate corrections. If the employees aren’t yours, it may be appropriate to speak directly to the employees or, better, tell the closest supervisor who does have authority over said employees.
Not Hear Say: An inspection record only should include what was actually witnessed by the inspector. If someone tells you about an event, and you think it must go in the report for documentation’s sake, assure you insert it as a quote from this person. Record his name and any other pertinent information related to the quote.
Don’t Police: It is somewhat of a tight wire act for a safety person to strike a balance between having a positive rapport with the employees, and being uncompromising in doing the right thing. This balance must be strived for, however. If one truly cares for the well being of his employees, it will be apparent. When a violation is found, assure everyone on the crew understands precisely why this is unacceptable.
Retaining: Every time I do an inspection, I hold a safety meeting with the crew afterward to go over the results. If things looked good, I commend and encourage the crew for the success. When a violation is found, I first correct the violation, speak privately with the violator, and then hold a safety meeting to assure all employees understand what is right. Many times, retraining is needed. If the employee knew better, and it was a matter of willful defiance, then discipline is needed.
Discipline: When violations are found, repercussions need to occur, at least in repeat or willful cases. If not, you will continue to see these bad inspection reports and, worse, resulting injuries.
Follow Up: Inspections should be regular, routine and repeated. An inspection every three months is not going to yield much change in the culture. Implement a routine frequency, and, if there were violations, follow up quickly, in order to get a handle on the issue and ensure that the retraining is successful.
Determining inspection criteria
Three basic sources should be consulted, with all three having much the same content. These include OSHA regulations, the company’s written safety program, and a written hazard assessment. Many companies do a daily Job Safety Analysis (JSA) or Pre-Task Plan each morning before work begins. This is a good source to identify job-specific hazard items to include in the inspection. An employee safety committee also could help identify hazard items from a field perspective.
Preparation for an OSHA inspection
Regular site safety inspections are the most effective preparation for an OSHA inspection, whether the inspection is unannounced or scheduled. I don’t inspect solely in view of an OSHA inspector’s point of view. That would be more like a teacher solely preparing students to pass a test, rather than teaching for real life application. So, we must inspect according to what we believe are the best practices for our specific application, which should be our company safety program, but will, in most cases, exceed OSHA compliance anyway.
No hard and fast rules to inspection documentation exist. But here are a few suggestions. Avoid the temptation to walk a job, correct the hazards, know that it has been done, but not obtain written proof. This temptation is strong, because no one wants more paperwork. We live in a litigious society – one that is naturally mistrusting. None of us wants more paperwork, but written safety inspections are necessary. These documented facts may be the difference between winning and losing a court case, OSHA citation or fraudulent claim.
How the documentation is formatted or recorded is as broad as the imagination. A checklist-style, written form created in any program that suits your preference can be used. Or, write the inspection in essay form. The weaker the understanding of the safety rules, the more detailed the checklist should be, to assure a complete inspection has been done. If one has a solid understanding of the regulations, he can have a briefer checklist with a section for notes to add more detail, when needed.
Some prefer to use computer checklist documents in spreadsheet style or word processor programs. Many are utilizing handheld devices such as tablets or smartphones to record the inspections in word processor, spreadsheet or mobile app form. Ample safety inspection apps now are available, and some are even free and completely customizable. Or, you simply can use a template already built. One of these forms of electronic records is preferable, since pictures or tables of graphed results can be added. The form can be emailed immediately to office personal or any other applicable recipient.
Finally, assure a copy of these documents is kept in a safe place. Someone may accuse you of never inspecting your jobs, but the proof will be in the pudding!