In my previous blog I discussed the concept of increased inspections and safety observations leading to fewer incidents. However, inspections should not be done simply for the sake of doing inspections. A proper strategy should 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 Safety Manager may see it as one thing, a superintendent completely different than safety, and so on. This is understandable based on job roles and responsibilities, personal experience, and many other factors. With that being said, it is my impression that most everyone believes that they must, regardless of their role on the site, perform a full inspection of the entire jobsite every time they go out to do an inspection. For most inspectors, however, they are not prepared to do this either due to training (or lack thereof) or time constraints or both. Full inspections are sometimes simply not feasible. My proposed solution is to develop a two-pronged approach that utilizes both general and focused inspections.
A general inspection is a comprehensive walkthrough of the entire facility and anything where everything could be looked at, depending on what the inspector comes across. This could be one large inspection or broken out over several smaller inspections – as long as the entire job site is inspected at least once over a pre-determined period. Due to their encompassing nature, general inspections typically take a great deal more 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, instead documenting whatever they may happen to come across. For example, when you walk the entire jobsite, you may happen to document that you saw some fire extinguishers, but 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 a current annual inspection tag? Are all of the extinguishers charged? Now, if you scheduled a focused fire protection inspection, the entire inspection would consist of looking just at those items and nothing else, effectively ensuring these items are observed as needed.
Focused inspections also work great for field involvement. As a rule, safety managers can devote longer to an inspection consistently (from week to week) than field staff (Project Manager, superintendents, line staff). In addition, they can sustain this type of inspection activity indefinately. If non-safety personnel are tasked with doing an inspection that takes many hours, it will be very difficult to repeat and remain sustainable. 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, they can do a 15-30 minute inspection to support the process. This will provide meaningful involvement from the field and the data will support broader initiatives dictated by you and your staff. In addition, this will allow you to provide staff development in the form of your inspection directives.
Scheduling a focused inspection is where you can use the power of both your experienced inspectors (Safety Director, Regional Managers, etc.) and the data that has previously been collected throughout the company. In fact, the general inspection findings should lead to additional, focused inspections. As an example, a Safety Director walked the jobsite and noted that housekeeping was poor – this would lead to a detailed, focused inspections looking at just housekeeping in order to pinpoint the exact nature of the issue.
Besides focusing on the problem areas, your collected data – both safe and unsafe – should allow trending to determine what is observed the least, or not at all. From that information, you could use scheduled, focused inspections to ensure you look at a particular item on a regular basis. Good examples of these types of inspections include fire protection, hazard communication, environmental, administrative, confined spaces, and other infrequently observed categories.
The inspection process often inaccurately assumes that every inspector understands what each hazard subcategory statement (e.g. Guardrails) means. For example, does the inspector know guardrails have to be 42” high with no greater than 3” deflection and the mid-rail should be at 21”? That the guardrails are constructed properly? (e.g. Do not saddle the dead horse)? It should not be assumed that the observer understands how to assess each and every hazard that may be present on a jobsite. 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 a focused manner, they won’t be overwhelmed with seeing dozens of categories and hundreds of subcategories. In addition, they can better understand the things you feel are important in the field. Going forward, focused inspections can be developed to continually develop your employees and bring your inspection program to the next level.