Article By: Christian Goudge, AWARE-NS Safety Collaborator
In part one we discussed the types of hazards and the types of controls to eliminate or minimize the hazards. In part 2 we will discuss how to conduct effective workplace inspections consisting of identifying the hazard, suggesting corrective action, follow up and documentation.
Regular workplace inspections are required under section 28(2)(e,f,g,h) which outlines the need to conduct, report, follow up and maintain records of workplace inspections. Regular workplace inspections are a great way to prevent accidents and demonstrate an organization’s due diligence by proactively seeking out hazards before they cause harm. Inspections are also an excellent opportunity to engage the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee (JOHSC) in a positive and very important function. Workplace inspections also provide an opportunity to further develop the internal responsibility system by engaging workers and managers in workplace inspections.
The process of conducting regular workplace inspections has many components; let’s take a look at each one:
What needs to be inspected?
It is important to consider the entire workplace when establishing what needs to be inspected. The main building is often the focus of most workplace inspections but it is important to inspect other areas as well. The outside grounds, parking lots and out buildings such as utility sheds or garages must also be inspected as these are great hiding areas for hazards.
When does the workplace need to be inspected?
The OHS Act tells us to regularly inspect the workplace; this is commonly interpreted to be monthly. The Act also tells us we must create a schedule for regular inspections. In some cases it may not be reasonably practical to inspect the entire workplace every month due to the size of the site. In these cases the workplace should be divided into ‘bite size’ sections and each section is scheduled to be inspected on a particular month. For example; if we take a large site and divide it into 6 or 12 pieces, each piece would be assigned a month on the schedule. It is important to mix up the scheduled months for each area as the hazards may change depending on the time of year. Maybe the parking lot is one of the areas to be inspected; this should scheduled to be done in a winter month and a summer month as the hazards found would be very different. Once we have allocated the months to each section of the workplace, we end up with a regular workplace inspection schedule that has the entire site inspected twice per year. The only part missing is who is going to conduct the inspection.
Who conducts the workplace inspection?
The OHS Act expects the JOHSC to participate in regular workplace inspections; the internal responsibility system encourages us to share the responsibility of safety with all workplace parties. So that sounds like the safety committee and everyone else should be involved in inspections. A great way to do this is to have each committee member pick the month and area they would like to inspect and commit their name to the schedule. Now the schedule has the area, the month and the person conducting the inspection established for the year. Post this on your safety board and review it every month at the JOHSC meeting. It is a good idea to have the committee member inspect a unit or area they do not normally work in. On the day of the inspection, the committee member should have someone that works in the unit or area accompany them on the inspection, or make arrangements in advance to have a manager participate!
What do I look for when conducting a workplace inspection?
The primary focus of a workplace inspection is to identify hazards that may cause harm to staff or property damage. Recalling the four types of hazards in part one: physical; chemical; ergonomic and biological, should help guide your inspection process. These hazards can be found in the environment itself and in the work occurring in the area. When you enter the area to be inspected, slow down; good inspections take time. Look around, up and down; there are hazards to be found everywhere. When looking around you should be asking yourself questions like: “what can hurt me here?”; “what could catch fire here?”; “what could I trip on here?”; “what incident reports have come from here?” and so on. It is always very helpful to talk to staff that work in the area, they usually know the hazards well. An important point to remember is if we identify a hazard during our inspection that we can fix right away ourselves, such as a broom lying across the stairs, then we need to do this!
How do we document the workplace inspection?
The method of recording the hazards can vary greatly; two of the most common ways are through the use of checklists or through an open form. Checklists are very helpful in guiding an inspection, especially for people with little experience in conducting workplace inspections. Checklists ensure a consistent approach to inspecting and makes for a fairly simple process. The disadvantage to checklist is that it can restrict the inspection to the items on the list and may not capture the hazards present if the list is not comprehensive. Open forms provided the flexibility to be used in all departments and they are non-restrictive although it does require a more experienced person to conduct the inspection. Using either method, a suggested corrective action must be included with each hazard identified and a reasonable due date to have the issue fixed. There are many inspection forms available and it is important to find the one that works for your organization. This is a great project for the JOHSC to take on!
What do we do with the completed form?
The work is only half done after identifying and recording the hazards discovered during the inspection; we now have to ensure these issues are resolved. The manager of the area is typically the responsible person and the one tasked to ensure the issues identified are fixed. A 30 day time frame to have hazards corrected is often provided and items not closed on the inspection by then should be moved to the JOSCH agenda and be captured in the meeting minutes. A copy of the inspection must go to the manager and the JOHSC and the results of the inspection should also be shared with the staff in the area. This is a great topic for your regular staff meetings!
With practice, inspections will become less arduous, more effective and will be a strong component to a successful OHS program.
For more information on Hazard Identification check out these resources: