Workplace inspections can be either formal or informal. Informal inspections are a great way to prepare for formal inspections and should be conducted by a facilities manager.
According to HSE guidance on workplace inspections, formal inspections can take different forms: safety tours, safety sampling, safety surveys and incident inspections. Each of these types of inspections are an important preventative measure in helping to keep workplaces safe, covering different areas of potential risk:
• Safety tours – general inspections of the workplace
• Safety sampling – a systemic sampling of particularly dangerous activities, processes or areas
• Safety surveys – general inspections of particularly dangerous activities, processes or areas
• Incident inspections carried out after an accident has happened that has caused ill health, a fatality, injury or near miss and has been reported to the health and safety enforcing authority
Reasonable notice must be given before inspecting a workplace and inspections will usually not be carried out within three months of the last visit by inspectors. However, depending on the type of workplace and the potential risks that it presents, there will be variances in the frequency with which inspections are carried out. For example, they will generally be less frequent in an office where the risks to employee welfare are minimal but more frequent on a construction site where there is a wide range of risks.
How to carry out a workplace safety inspection
While formal inspections will be carried out by an accredited, union-appointed health and safety representative, carrying out informal safety inspections can be carried out at any point.
It should be agreed in advance what will be inspected, whether it’s a specific area of the workplace, or perhaps a new piece of equipment.
Then, with an understanding of either local or legal standards, the inspection should begin. An informal inspection might include the following steps:
1. Reading previous inspection reports to get up to speed with the condition of the workplace
2. Walking around the workplace with a checklist or notebook to make sure potential issues are documented
3. Splitting potential issues into two categories – unsafe conditions and unsafe processes
4. Creating an action plan to tackle unsafe conditions, which might include uneven floors, trailing cables, faulty work equipment or out of date PAT tested appliances. This will usually include organising external contractors to remedy issues
5. Working on tackling unsafe processes, which might include a lack of appropriate PPE or work procedures that don’t comply with HSE guidance
Workplace inspection checklist examples
Ascertain workplaces might contain a huge range of potential risks, it’s not always easy to think of everything that you need to check in a workplace inspection. Using a checklist can help you to check areas that you might not have otherwise thought of. The workplace safety inspection checklists below could be useful:
• Health and Safety Inspections: A TUC Guide
• Workplace Inspections Government Advice
How often inspections should be performed
Although formal workplace inspections will be carried out every three months at most, informal internal inspections can be carried out as frequently as desired.
The frequency with which safety inspections will be carried out will generally be informed by how many risks the specific workplace presents, with more potential risks meaning more frequent inspections.
Consulting with workers can help you to get an idea of how often inspections are required, as they’re most likely to know what the potential risks are. Additionally, you can use working hours as milestones to prompt inspections by pledging to carry one out every 200 hours worked, for example.
Once you’ve settled on a frequency, create an inspection schedule to help keep you on track
How to address unsafe conditions
It is important to address the issues identified through an inspection, otherwise, there’s no point in carrying one out. Somebody in the organisation should be responsible for checking that action has been taken to address any issues with an unsafe working environment or unsafe processes, and a time limit should be set on taking action to ensure remedies are carried out in good time.
Unsafe conditions can be addressed in two main ways: precautionary methods or reactionary methods.
Precautionary methods include providing adequate training for staff, providing adequate PPE and PPE clothing for staff and PAT-testing equipment and appliances. This should be carried out regularly to ensure that the methods are there to prevent accidents or injury when it matters.
Reactionary methods will be undertaken as soon as possible after injury or illness to prevent immediate further damage to the health and safety of workers. This could be unplugging and removing a microwave from the staff kitchen after it has sparked, for example.