Effective Health and Safety Workplace Inspections for Employers and Contractors in South Africa
Effective health and safety workplace inspections for employers and contractors in South Africa can be a useful management control which attempts to pick up any non-conformances before an incident or accident occurs. By critically examining the workplace, inspections can also help identify and record any hazards and risks for corrective action.
Workplace inspections are considered an important part in the overall Occupational Health and Safety Program as well as management system, if done frequently and correctly.
What is the purpose of inspections?
Inspections serve the following purpose:
- Allow for the employer to listen to employees’ and supervisors’ concerns.
- Gaining further understanding of work and tasks.
- Identification of existing and potential hazards and risks.
- Determining underlying causes of hazards and risks.
- They help recommend corrective actions to be taken.
- They help monitor the steps taken to eliminate hazards or control risks.
How can inspections be planned?
What to examine
Each inspection must examine who, what, where, when and how as the prime topics. There must be attention paid to items which are most likely to develop into unsafe or unhealthy conditions. Areas where work is not done regularly must be included as well.
Workplace elements include:
- The environment
- Equipment, and
- The process
What types of hazards can be expected in the workplace?
Typical types of workplace hazards include the following, although they may differ from one site to the next, these are merely examples:
- Safety hazards caused by inadequate machine guards, unsafe work conditions, unsafe work practices.
- Biological hazards which are caused by organisms such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites.
- Chemical hazards which are caused by liquid, vapour, gas, dust, fumes, or mist.
- Ergonomic hazards as result of physiological and psychological demands of employees including repetitive and forceful movements, awkward postures, improperly designed workstations, tools, equipment, temperatures, ventilation, and others.
- Physical hazards such as created by noise, vibration, energy, weather, heat, cold, electricity, radiation, and pressure, and
- Psychosocial hazards which may impact on mental health and/or wellbeing such as overwork, stress, victimization, discrimination, violence, and others.
What information is needed to complete the inspection report?
Drawings of the workplace layout or floor plans can be used to draw a diagram. The workplace can be divided into areas based on their processes. The activities in the workplace can be visualised to identify the location of machines, equipment, and materials.
There must be knowledge of the machinery and equipment present on the site. Technical data sheets, and/or manufacturer’s safety manuals must be reviewed, and work area records must be read, allowing for familiarity with hazards presented by equipment.
Hazardous product or chemical inventory
Products used in the workplace must be identified and whether there are material safety data sheets (MSDS) available. All sources of exposure found must be controlled and employees must be trained on safe usage, handling, and storage of the products that they work with.
All products must be properly labelled according to the relevant requirements.
Checklists will help to clarify inspection responsibilities and they control inspection activities in addition to providing a report of inspection activities. Checklists also help with on-the-spot recording of any findings along with comments which can be made.
There can be checklists designed for each specific area and task. However, the inspection team must not become complacent with only checking items on the checklist and must look out for other hazardous conditions, thus checklists must only be a basic tool.
It is crucial that inspection records are kept as previous reports show what has previously been identified. These previous reports also show what was previously focused on and what may have gone uninspected.
What other types of inspection reports could be useful?
Three other inspection types which may prove to be useful include:
- Ongoing inspections
- Pre-operation inspections, and
- Periodic inspections.
Ongoing inspections can be done as part of the job responsibilities of supervisors and employees. These inspections help to identify conditions which can be corrected immediately, or they can be reported for corrective action.
Pre-operation inspection involve those of new or modified equipment or processes, these are also done after workplace shutdowns.
Periodic inspections are inspections which are regular and planned, they are done on critical components of equipment or systems which have a high potential for causing severe injury or illness.
Who must the inspection team consist of?
Health and safety committee members are often the first choice when selecting personnel to carry out formal inspections, especially when they possess the necessary training or certification.
Other criteria which can be used to select the inspection team includes:
- Knowledge of regulations as well as procedures.
- Knowledge of potential hazards, and
- Experience with work procedures which are involved.
Can Supervisors be part of the inspection team?
Supervisors are responsible to ensure that action is taken to prevent an incident, illness, or injury. They have an advantage in safety inspections as they are familiar with employees, equipment, and the working environment.
However, this familiarity may be a disadvantage as it could make the supervisor subjective. Should the supervisor not be included in the inspection team, before an area or department is inspected, the team must contact the supervisor in charge, however, the supervisor must not act as a tour guide, but an objective member of the team.
How long should the inspection take?
It may be difficult to determine how long each inspection will take. The time required to conduct the inspection will depend on what is being inspected, what is found, how many questions are asked, and how large or complex the work area being inspected is.
Inspections may prove ineffective if a specific time is given and it may lead to a lot of things being missed during the inspection.
How frequently must inspections be done?
The purpose of an inspection is to ensure that the workplace remains safe, the inspection schedule must clearly state the following:
- When each area in the workplace must be inspected.
- The responsible person to carry out the inspection, and
- The degree of detail that must be inspected.
There are several factors that will determine the frequency of inspections, these are:
- Frequency of planned inspections.
- Past incidents.
- Number and size of various operations.
- Equipment types as well as processes.
- Number of shifts.
- New processes and/or machinery, and
- Legislative requirements.
The process involved with inspections
When inspections are conducted, focus must be on identifying any deviations from work practices. Some examples of poor practices include, but is not limited to:
- Unauthorised machine, tool, or equipment use.
- Operating at unsafe speeds.
- Removing guards or other safety devices.
- Using defective tools or equipment, and more.
When inspections are conducted, some of the following basic principles can be followed:
- Draw attention to the presence of immediate danger.
- Shut down as well as lock out hazardous items.
- Do not operate equipment, an operator of that equipment can be asked for a demonstration.
- Look up, down, around, and inside.
- Clearly describe every hazard and its exact location.
- Ask questions without disrupting work activities unnecessarily.
- Consider the static and dynamic conditions of machines and equipment being inspected.
- Consider factors associated with how the work is organized, the pace thereof, and how such factors impact on safety.
- Discuss as a group or inspection team.
- Avoid trying to detect hazards only using senses or by looking at them during inspection.
- Take a photograph where a particular situation cannot be clearly described.
The Final Inspection Report
To compile a report, all unfinished items from the previous report must be copied onto the new report. Observed unsafe conditions and the methods of control must be written down.
The department must be mentioned, or the area inspected, the date, and the names of the inspection team. State what was detected and identify its location. Assign a priority level to the hazards observed and report issues in a concise, factual way.
After each listed hazard, there must be a recommended corrective action specified along with a date by when it must be rectified.
Follow-up and Monitoring
Information from regular inspections must be reviewed to identify where a corrective action was needed. Analysis of inspection reports tend to show:
- Priorities for further or other action.
- The need for improvement of safe work practices.
- Insight on why incidents are occurring in specific areas.
- A need for education and training in some areas, and
- Areas where there must be a more in-depth analysis.
Inspection Information Requirements – Summary
This includes numerous factors, some of which are:
- Basic layout plans
- Process flows
- Storage areas
- Information on chemicals
- Work size force, shifts and supervision
- Job procedures
- Safe work practices
- Manufacturer’s specifications.
- Engineering controls
- PPE, and more.
How can SafetyWallet help Employers and Contractors’ Health and Safety Compliance?
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