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 recommends more frequent inspections on construction sites due to their transient nature. OSHA suggests:
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
For employers in general industry, OSHA recommends:
- 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 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 which are then 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:
-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.
Ultimately, it is up to your company to determine what fits best for them. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach that we have found. 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.