The Power of Workplace Inspections: Your Guide to Safety and Compliance

An effective safety management system has many components, and workplace inspections are one of them. When organizations proactively pinpoint and address hazards, they are better able to protect employees, comply with regulations, and create a culture of safety in the workplace. 

The process of planning, executing, and documenting your workplace inspection program is key. Whether you’re in charge of managing risk at a company or performing inspections on the ground, the following guide will help you elevate safety and decrease hazards that get in the way of operations. 

What are work inspections?

Workplace inspections are thorough reviews and surveys of a physical place of work that systematically find and fix potential safety hazards. They involve checking equipment, processes, and protocols to ensure they follow safety standards and regulations. 

When a contractor is involved in daily operations, work inspections may also be the result of a Work Inspection Request (WIR) submitted by a contractor once a project has been completed.

The primary purpose of conducting regular workplace inspections

There are multiple reasons to invest time and resources into a thorough safety inspection program:

  1. To pinpoint probable risks and physical hazards
  2. Determine whether your common safety procedures are sufficient and being followed
  3. Ensure compliance with industry regulations

With a few proactive steps that increase oversight and consideration of potential safety issues, organizations can prevent work-related injuries and accidents, improving workplace safety and team morale.

The role of workplace inspections in an organization’s safety program

No overall workplace safety program is complete without periodic inspections. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and other relevant authorities require a safe workplace, and regular internal inspections are a reliable way to achieve it. Here’s how they help maintain occupational health and safety standards:

  • Identifying areas for improvement in safety processes and procedures
  • Ensuring that safety equipment and protective gear are in good condition and being used properly
  • Verifying that team members are using safe work practices and receive sufficient safety training

Once an inspection is complete, the findings and recommendations are documented in an inspection report.  These reports provide a valuable roadmap for continuous improvement of safety practices. During an audit, they also prove your organization’s commitment to safety and mitigation of risks and hazards.

What to include in workplace inspections

The foundation of an effective workplace inspection is a detailed worksite map or diagram. This visual representation serves as a roadmap for inspectors as they tour your facility so they don’t overlook anything. The worksite map must include any zones where work is done, emergency exits, safety equipment locations, and utility sources so inspectors can easily spot possible hazards.

In addition to a worksite map, it is critical to itemize the following in order to ensure a thorough inspection:

Equipment inventory 

In addition to the worksite map, it is vital to keep a detailed inventory of all equipment. This record should include hardware, tools, and machinery operated within your space. Documentation of when they are used and their safety features and risks is also helpful. When the inspectors do their work, it’s important that they are able to verify that machinery is maintained correctly, is in good working order, and has all the necessary safety guards or emergency shut-off switches.

Hazardous materials

Beyond an inventory list, inspections should include a review of any hazardous chemicals the organization uses or stores. The review of hazardous materials should involve the following:

Policies, documents, and inspection records

Organizations must create and regularly review related standard operating procedures, policies, documentation, and past inspection records to maintain consistency in the inspection process and ensure its ongoing effectiveness in reducing risk. The goal is to ensure the safety program and inspections are conducted uniformly across all areas and that safety continues to improve over time.

Tracking inspections and demonstrating compliance with regulations builds a culture of continuous improvement. It shows employees, consumers, and regulators that you take workplace safety seriously.

Who should perform workplace inspections?

A diverse team of individuals with varying expertise and backgrounds should conduct internal inspections. The team may include trained safety personnel, subject matter experts from different departments and levels of management, safety committee members, and environmental health and safety (EHS) consultants when necessary. 

All of these perspectives bring unique insights and skills to help ensure a well-rounded inspection.

The role of trained safety professionals

Safety officers at your organization are critically important to the inspection process. They are subject matter experts when it comes to compliance with OSHA regulations, and they are often skilled in identifying workplace hazards and initiating the organizational change needed to minimize risks.

The role of a diverse inspection team

It is equally important to include team members from different departments and levels of management. These employees have firsthand knowledge of the daily work being reviewed and provide essential support to messaging around a culture of safety. 

In addition, when you include on-the-ground workers in the process of developing inspection programs, it helps your company:  

  • Grow a sense of ownership and responsibility for workplace safety
  • Identify hazards overlooked by outside observers
  • Encourage open communication and feedback about safety concerns

The importance of safety committees 

If you have a safety committee at your company, it will be the starting point for any inspection program. These teams are often composed of representatives from multiple departments such as maintenance, HR, and operations management. 

Their job is to incorporate all necessary considerations into safety planning and inspections. They also review inspection results and help coordinate corrective actions to ensure solutions are implemented effectively across the company.

The importance of external consultants

At times, you may want to bring in external EHS consultants, particularly if you’re managing complex work environments or hazardous materials. These experts can offer an outside, objective perspective you may not be able to get from your own team. 

External consultants can:

  • Conduct up-close assessments of high-risk areas
  • Offer guidance on industry best practices and regulatory compliance
  • Give training or support to your internal teams

When you use both outside and inside personnel, you help ensure comprehensive inspections that meet industry standards. This collaborative approach builds a strong safety culture and shows your commitment to the well-being of your workers.

Conducting inspections and implementing corrective actions

Once you have a team and strategy in place, it is time to initiate the inspection process. Here’s how a typical inspection might work.

  1. Environment and process review: Inspectors review the entire work area, processes, equipment, hazardous materials, ergonomic factors, and use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The inspector notes any unsafe conditions or deviations from established safety practices and policies.
  2. Review of safety precautions: During the inspection, the team pays close attention to critical safety elements like fall protection systems, fire extinguishers, and machine guards. These play a vital role in stopping accidents, injury, and property damage at the job site.
  3. Creation of inspection report: Upon completion of an inspection, the team compiles a report summarizing their observations and highlighting any safety issues along with recommendations for how to fix them, prioritizing critical concerns first.
  4. Report delivery and review: The team logs its inspection report and shares it with management and other internal stakeholders, ensuring visibility to all responsible levels of management.

Corrective actions and a culture of safety

Inspections will inevitably uncover opportunities to improve safety plans. Once your organization is aware of areas where safety procedures may be lacking, it is critical to take action to shore them up. Neglecting to do so can put your organization at even greater liability and risk. 

Common corrective actions may include:

  • Repairing or replacing faulty equipment
  • Updating safety procedures and protocols
  • Providing additional safety training to employees
  • Improving maintenance and organization in the workspace

By placing a high priority on taking corrective action, your organization sets an example for employees that further instills a culture of safety, which is perhaps the most critical component of a healthy workplace. 

Embracing a proactive approach to workplace safety

A proactive approach to workplace inspections can cultivate an environment that not only protects employees but also enhances productivity and morale. Investing in comprehensive safety programs, regular training, and advanced technologies can help your company stay ahead of problems before they occur and keep a competitive edge in your industry. 

Ultimately, the commitment to workplace safety is an investment in the long-term success and resilience of any organization.

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