While implementing a robust and sustainable observation program for companies, one question comes up often:
“How many safety inspections should I do?” My answer, of course, is, “It depends.” As cryptic as it may sound, it is true. Safety inspection frequency will depend on several factors:
- The frequency of planned formal inspections detailed by a regulatory agency.
- Guidelines from a safety management system (e.g. OSHA VPP, OHSAS 18001).
- Number, size, and potential risk of different work operations or equipment.
- Team building/employee involvement/safety committee activities.
- Number of shifts; the activity of each shift may vary.
- The number of man hours worked by the team.
- Introduction of new processes, equipment, or workers.
- Historical patterns of at-risk activity.
- Past incident/near-miss records.
There are some basic guidelines that can set initial expectations, but it should vary based on the circumstances. Ideally, the goal is to verify that good interaction is occurring with workers in an effort to facilitate safety conversations and redirect efforts based on prioritized needs relative to the data collected.
OSHA Safety Inspection Guidelines
OSHA has a Challenge program that provides interested employers and workers with the opportunity to gain assistance in improving their safety and health management systems. Within the Challenge guidelines and coined by OSHA as a ‘Roadmap to Safety and Health Excellence’, there are recommendations for routine self-inspections as described below:
Construction Industry Safety Inspections
- Conduct routine self-inspections which cover the entire worksite as often as necessary, but at least weekly.
- Ensure that the subcontractor implements a similar self-inspection process.
- More frequent due to dynamic nature.
General Industry Safety Inspections
- Conduct routine self-inspections which cover the entire worksite with a frequency of at least monthly and the entire worksite covered at least quarterly.
The guidelines referenced above use the term ‘self-inspection’. To clarify, an inspection is a collection of workplace safety observations, such as a behavior or condition. According to the OSHA Challenge guidelines, the process for a documented system for routinely scheduled self-inspections of the workplace should contain the following components:
- A tool or checklist.
- An inspection schedule.
- Recording of findings.
- Responsibility for abatement.
- Tracking of identified hazards for timely correction.
These inspections are commonly referred to as “safety inspections” and should not be confused with “equipment inspections.” A self-inspection can include aspects of inspecting a piece of equipment; however, there are usually specific items that must be addressed based upon the nature of the equipment. Here are a few examples of equipment that must be inspected independently:
- Forklifts & motorized equipment
- Cranes & hoisting equipment
Our Data on Safety Inspections
Our research, as documented in our white paper “Predictive Analytics in Workplace Safety: Four 'Safety Truths' that Reduce Workplace Injuries", indicates that achieving the most success occurs when there is marked participation from the beginning. In other words, observations should be done by the worker, who is closest to the work; line supervision, who monitors the work; and senior management, to demonstrate commitment to the process. The goal is always to start out in a quantitative manner, then refine the approach to address quality. In any successful process, measurable goals must be set and tracked through to completion.
Initial participation is typically a numerical goal linked to the employee’s role within the company. Here is an example of a typical set of participation goals:
- 1-2 per month for Senior Management such as Plant Managers and Executives
- 1-2 per week for Line Managers, Superintendents, Directors, and Workers
- 3-5 per week for Safety staff
At first glance, this model may appear to be lopsided in the diversity ratio (safety vs. non safety) with safety staff doing more inspections. However, there is usually more non-safety staff at a location so the inspection totals as it relates to diversity should balance out. There are a few key takeaways derived from this model that can serve to improve the diversity ratio:
For non-safety staff, it is more impactful to increase participation than to add more people. For example, adding another inspection every other week yields more inspections than adding two more executives.
Determining the specific inspection frequency by role should take into account work functions, which means that there is a clear understanding of what the individual does on a day to day basis.
The frequency should be set so that diversity is improved and quality observations are collected. Too few and the ownership and awareness are not established. Too many and there is a marked diminishing return on investment. If your existing method of gathering inspection data aren't working, it's important to revisit your strategy.
Overall, this is a good approach since it can be accommodated for both small and large companies. Ideally, the inspection strategy would coordinate activity to minimize overlaps and ensure the best coverage for monitoring.
Another novel approach being used by some companies is an actual formula based on man-hours (MH). Specifically, the approach is 1 safety inspection per 200 MH. Here is an example
There are ten workers in a small machine shop. Each worker works 40 hours/week which works out to be 400 MH total for the shop per week. This should equate to two inspections for the week (more being necessary if any of the factors defined in the opening paragraph require it).
This same concept (1 inspection per 200 MH) can also apply to how groups are inspected. If there are multiple crews, departments, or contractors working, but one has 80% of the man-hours, it is most appropriate that 80% of the observation effort be directed towards the group which generates the largest amount of hours. This will vary since risk is also a factor. Here is a good example:
There are two contractors with an equal amount of hours. One contractor is a roofing contractor and the other group is a crew painting rooms inside a finished building (i.e. Standing on a floor, no ladders, no overhead hazards). Since the roofer is likely to have more risk, it stands to reason they should receive more inspections and observations.
Ultimately, it is up to your company to determine what the best fit is for them. There is no “one size fits all” approach to be found, and safety culture is just as important as the inspections themselves. However, there are many resources available which can aid in developing a meaningful approach to worksite safety inspections. The goal is to give you and your company the best return on investment for time spent in the observation process from a coaching and engagement aspect as well as a risk management function. Remember that safety inspections are only the tip of the iceberg as well. Make sure you have the right safety analytics strategy in place to make your inspections worth it.
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