“I can’t believe I never saw that!” How many of you have received similar responses after pointing out observations during routine workplace safety inspections?
What does the response mean? Does it indicate the individual is inexperienced or careless? Not necessarily. Are they simply new to the workplace environment? Typically not.
It may surprise you, but in my experience, the people most likely to use this phrase are:
- Highly experienced and knowledgeable
- Committed to the organization’s inspection process
- Very familiar with the workplace
Why are Safety Issues Overlooked?
When you work in the same workplace environment for an extended period of time, even seemingly obvious issues start to blend into the background.
I like to call it being “blinded by the familiar”.
It’s why it’s helpful to have someone else read over an important document before submission. If you’ve stared at it for too long, it’s easy to gloss over the flaws and fill in the gaps with what you know is correct. The same can be true for workplace safety.
Routine workplace safety inspections are a critical component of any safety program. They allow supervisors and safety officers to assess the program, identify deficiencies, and observe areas or actions that need improvement. However, the routine nature of these processes can cause important items to be overlooked.
How to Improve Your Workplace Safety Inspections
The good news is there are a number of ways to freshen up the inspection process. Below are a few strategies to help you conduct safety inspections with more of a purpose.
Get into the right mindset.
Even if you’ve been through the workplace hundreds of times, try to approach each inspection as if it’s your first time. Try to “relearn” the environment by focusing on changes, rather than confirming the status quo.
Has a piece of equipment moved? Is a process being conducted in a new location? Is there any evidence of a spill or leak? Are PPE and spill kit supplies readily available, or are things missing? These are all subtle clues that indicate the need for a closer review.
Allocate enough time.
The easiest way to miss something is to rush through it. The same is true for routine inspections. Because they’re routine, it’s easy to drop them down on the priority list, especially if you expect everything to be fine.
Unfortunately, this can lead to a habit of “quickly” conducting inspections right before important meetings, lunch breaks, or worse, right before you leave for the day. Make sure you allocate enough time to conduct the inspection and address any observations or issues that arise.
Pick one “theme” topic to really focus on.
Workplaces are complex and dynamic, and you likely have a long list of items to look for during each inspection. For high-frequency inspections (such as daily rounds), you may choose to designate one topic as the main item of focus.
This doesn’t mean you completely dismiss other areas, but you focus on the theme topic more closely than you otherwise would for that inspection type. For instance, you may choose an electrical safety theme and look closely at the integrity of cords and plugs throughout the facility. Alternatively, you could focus on safety signage, equipment certifications, or PPE availability as your main inspection themes.
Follow a different route.
It’s very easy to get into the habit of doing routine things the same way every time. This is great for consistency, but are inspection findings something that we really want to be reproducible?
Sure, we want to find repeat issues, but always viewing the space from the same angle is one way that problem items can be overlooked. With this in mind, consider conducting your next inspection by entering from a different entrance or going in the opposite direction of your typical route.
Bring a buddy.
It’s always useful to have a second set of eyes. Other safety officers, workplace supervisors, and external consultants can all be useful in this regard.
Individuals don’t even need to be a safety expert to be a valuable resource, as long as they are observant and willing to ask questions. Each and every inspection doesn’t need to be a two-person task, but it’s certainly worth considering from time to time.
Strike up a conversation.
It’s easy to get tunnel vision when you’re performing routine inspections, but you shouldn’t limit your resources to simply what’s in front of you. Even the most thorough inspections are nothing more than a snapshot of a dynamic workplace environment. You can’t be in every area 100% of the time, so it’s important to get information from other resources as well.
Asking employees what they’ve observed or whether they need anything can be as informative as any other aspect of the inspection. Conversations also serve the dual benefit of breaking up the monotony of the process. The more opportunities to you give yourself to uncover needs in your program, the more fruitful your inspection process will be.
Routine workplace safety inspections should be viewed as important components of your safety program, not simply a box that needs to be checked on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. The more intention you put into the process, the more success you will have identifying and resolving safety issues in the workplace.