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A guide to health and safety inspections in the workplace

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A workplace health and safety program consists of many processes and procedures, all of them serving a distinct and important purpose. However, some tasks stand out as especially critical when it comes to avoiding injury and upholding employee safety. 

A workplace health and safety program consists of many processes and procedures, all of them serving a distinct and important purpose. However, some tasks stand out as especially critical when it comes to avoiding injury and upholding employee safety. 

Workplace inspections are undoubtedly one of those procedures. Whether your organisation operates in agriculture, healthcare or manufacturing, formal inspections are key to maintaining a safe and productive work environment.

Let’s take a closer look at health and safety inspections in the workplace and what you need to know about conducting them at your organisation.


The role of inspection in workplace health and safety


What is a workplace inspection? Simply put, a safety inspection is an on-site walkthrough of the working environment, performed with the intention of identifying a hazard that could endanger the wellbeing of any employee, contractor or visitor that may enter the job site. 

In other words, workplace inspections are a process wherein the inspector critically evaluates all aspects of a work environment. According to Comcare, this makes them a “useful tool to help prevent risk” throughout an organisation. When an assessor evaluates a workplace, they’re looking closely for any potential hazard that can be removed or avoided.

Notably, a workplace inspection is different from an audit. A safety audit is a process of evaluating the overall effectiveness of your workplace health and safety management program. Inspections are just a small piece of that puzzle.


Types of workplace safety inspections


There are many ways to examine the conditions of a workplace, task or piece of equipment. Here are three of the most popular:

1. Checklist inspections: An inspection checklist may be used for the regular observation of specific items that you know need to be frequently assessed, such as certain types of equipment. However, they don’t account for previously unrecognised risks.

2. General inspections: During a general inspection an inspector will rely on their knowledge of health and safety when walking through a job site. The advantage of this method is the safety inspections aren’t limited to what’s listed on an inspection checklist.

3. Risk mapping: This method involves employees, supervisors and managers sharing their knowledge of known risks and identifying them on a map of the workplace. This allows you to visualise each hazard and identify the corrective action required to eliminate it. 

Regular inspections are important, but not all types of inspections need to be scheduled at the same time. Generally, you can categorise your efforts into three groups based on frequency:

1. Routine inspections are conducted on a regular basis, such as daily, weekly or monthly (e.g., daily pre-starts or initial startup checks).

2. Planned inspections relate to specific items that need to be inspected at certain intervals. For instance, a piece of equipment may need to be tested every few months.

3. Incident inspections are required after a workplace incident has occurred. They may also take place if an identified hazard poses a significant and immediate risk to health and safety but has yet to cause an incident.

Who performs workplace inspections?

Because it’s essential that everyone take ownership of their safety responsibilities, any employee, supervisor or manager can perform a workplace inspection. However, an inspector is usually one of two parties:

1. A health and safety representative (HSR): According to Comcare, an HSR is a worker who is elected to represent the health and safety interests of their work group.

2. A workplace health and safety (WHS) practitioner: Safety practitioners are advisers who support an organisation’s leaders and employees understand their WHS responsibilities.


Why are inspections important in the workplace?


According to the latest data from SafeWork Australia, 81 workers were killed on the job in the first half of 2022. In fact, there’s been a 32% increase in workplace fatalities since 2018 — one every two days, according to the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

The numbers underscore a pressing need to improve workplace safety. Fortunately, inspections are designed to do just that. 

Workplace inspections help prevent incidents, injuries and illnesses caused by preventable hazards on the job, which makes them a critical part of any effective safety management system. What’s also important to remember is that regular inspections are key to maintaining compliance.

According to WHS law, an employer is legally required to take practicable steps to ensure safety. That includes proactively assessing safety measures and uncovering problems before they cause injury or illness. Inspecting the workplace allows you to:

  • Listen to the concerns of your workforce.

  • Identify existing and potential sources of risk.

  • Determine the root cause of a hazard.

  • Implement corrective measures.

  • Monitor safety performance and create continuous improvement.

Ultimately, the formal inspection process also generates several important benefits:
  • Fewer workplace accidents: Detecting and eliminating an unsafe condition or workplace hazard will translate into less risk to your workforce.

  • Increased employee satisfaction: With a safer work area, your employees will have the confidence to do their work without risk to their wellbeing. This increases engagement, makes them more productive and reduces employee turnover.

  • Cleaner safety record: A reputation for maintaining a safe workplace can help you recruit talent and win bids from prospective clients.

  • Reduces costs and liabilities: Compliance violations and compensation claims are expensive. Nipping hazards in the bud before they evolve into accidents will help you avoid these costly outcomes.

Conducting an inspection


Regular inspections should take place routinely throughout the year, particularly when:

  • Control measures aren’t working (such as after a near miss).
  • Processes and procedures are changed.
  • A new hazard has been identified.
  • A health and safety representative requests an inspection.

To help you make sure workplace inspections are carried out appropriately, here’s what your inspection team should expect at each stage of the process:


Preparing for the inspection

Use a checklist: An inspection checklist allows you to make sure your team takes a comprehensive look at your work area. Ask yourself which potential hazards are associated with the job.

Perform a risk assessment: A risk assessment will help you identify the workplace risks that need to be regularly monitored and addressed.

Observe performance: How are workers completing tasks? Are they following safe work procedures? Do they wear personal protective equipment?

Ask around: Talk to frontline employees and ask them where they think you should focus the inspection. 

During an inspection

You need to make sure your workplace safety inspections are thorough, otherwise, a significant hazard may slip through the cracks. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Broken equipment, unsafe conditions and dangerous practices.
  • Biological hazards such as viruses, bacteria, fungi or parasites.
  • Chemical hazards caused by substances, gases and fumes.
  • Ergonomic risks, such as those caused by mental and physical demands.
  • Physical hazards like excess noise, vibration, temperature or electricity.
  • Psychosocial hazards that impact employee mental health.

After the inspection

The inspection may be over, but the process isn’t finished. Once your team wraps up an inspection, there are several significant tasks that need to be completed:

1. Mitigate serious hazards immediately: If a high-risk threat is uncovered, you need to implement an immediate corrective measure. In fact, it’s a legal obligation.

2. Prioritise risks and assign someone to fix them: Some hazards are more dangerous than others, but some can wait. Delegate a worker to mitigate those that are most important and schedule someone to handle less serious tasks at a later date.

3. Follow up on corrective action: See to it that the action you’ve ordered gets done in a timely manner. For example, if you find a piece of broken equipment, make sure a replacement has been purchased and implemented.

4. Inform workers about your findings: Compile your inspection findings into a report and make sure your employees know which hazards have been identified, fixed or are in the process of being mitigated.

3. Make the inspection report accessible: Don’t force employees to take you at your word. Provide easy access to the inspection report so that workers can make quick reference to them and gain peace of mind.

4. Feed results back into your safety program: Incorporate the lessons learned from the inspection into your WHS strategy. This is what enables continuous improvement.

Improving the safety inspection process


One challenge WHS managers often face when it comes to inspections is a lack of efficiency. Unfortunately, many WHS procedures — inspections included — are still performed using spreadsheets or pen and paper.

This makes it difficult for workers to complete tasks, report hazards and collect important safety information. Even worse, it means the safety program isn’t performing at its best. When it comes to spotting risks, taking action and mitigating potential hazards, organisations need to act quickly. 

That’s where digital solutions are at an advantage. By digitising the inspection process using WHS software, you can make it simple for employees to complete workflows and report hazards on the job. Reports and business intelligence are instantly available in a centralised dashboard, making it easy for managers to take corrective action as quickly as possible. Plus, digital forms are completely customisable so that you can create inspection checklists specific to the needs of your workplace.