Workplace Inspections

What are they?

Inspections are a way of systematically checking that your working environment and procedures are meeting the required standards. An inspection should identify hazards and be your first step in introducing measures to improve conditions. They can be formal, informal, recorded or unrecorded, but what is important is that they are carried out to a set standard at an appropriate frequency.

Why are they important?

Inspections are a vital element of any safety management system. They should be used to determine whether you are meeting the standards you have set for your workplace and work activities. They are important because if they are carried out effectively, they allow you to identify and remedy problems before they become more serious or result in an incident or accident.
Some inspections are required by law - most people will be familiar with the need for an annual inspection and safety check on gas boilers. Examples of other statutory inspections that should be carried out by a competent person include equipment such as lifting equipment, local exhaust ventilation and pressure vessels.

Who is affected/most at risk?

Everyone who visits your workplace or is affected by your work activities could be at risk if you fail to identify an issue that could cause harm or damage.

What does the law say?

General Health and Safety Legislation requires employers to provide a safe place of work, safe access and egress and safe plant, equipment and systems of work. You need to carry out inspections in order to see whether you are providing and maintaining a safe workplace and working arrangements.
As highlighted earlier, there are some specific requirements for inspection. The Lifting Equipment and Lifting Operations Regulations (LOLER) and The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) both outline specific requirements for the inspection of plant and equipment that might need to be considered as part of your inspection regime.
Where there are specific requirements, the legislation usually states how often the inspections need to be carried out or that it should be carried out in accordance with a written scheme of examination drawn up by a competent person.

What can be done?

Inspections can be carried out for a number of reasons. They can be used to:

  • check safe conditions
  • identify hazardous conditions and
  • allow you to put in place remedial measures to improve matters

There are many ways to carry out inspections from a simple walk through your premises and putting things right there and then, to recording your observations in a notebook. You might use a checklist as a reminder of what you're looking for. Whatever method you choose, you should always be aware of why you're carrying out the inspection and, if necessary, make sure you have gathered enough information to produce a report on your findings.

Who should carry out an inspection?

Many people can carry out inspections for any number of reasons. External inspections could be carried out by enforcement officers, insurers, consultants or by a specialist inspector or engineer, but you should not simply rely on these external inspections to ensure your workplace is safe. Employers, supervisors and employees, including trade union safety representatives, might carry out internal inspections for their area or department.

Different levels of management might look for different things during the inspection. Make sure you include the right people to ensure that appropriate expertise is available to offer advice and information on any issues that arise during the inspection. External inspections could be carried out by enforcement officers, insurers, consultants or by a specialist inspector or engineer.

Inspections can be planned or carried out without warning to determine whether adequate standards are being maintained.

Good Practice

Before carrying out an inspection you need to decide what your aims are. The inspection must have a purpose. Decide what needs to be inspected, how often it needs to be inspected, who should carry out the inspection, what specific items or areas need inspecting and what standard you are looking for. Your standard may be determined by anything from a legal requirement or local needs.
Your inspection might include looking for unsafe conditions and unsafe acts. Unsafe conditions might include damage to floors and faulty or broken equipment. Unsafe acts could include failure to wear PPE or failure to work in accordance with safe procedures.
Checklists can be a useful reminder for people carrying out inspections of what needs to be checked. They can also act as a record that adequate standards are in place. They may also need to be specific in stating what safe condition is expected.

A checklist might include subjective words such as 'suitable' and 'adequate' but you might be able to use specific terms such as 'damaged', 'broken' or 'missing'. How often you carry out inspections will depend on the level of risk a failure might pose.

If you carry out monthly inspections and never encounter a problem you might then be able to change this and carry out the inspection on a two- or three-monthly cycle. If every inspection indicates a problem you might need to carry out inspections more frequently.

It is useful to read through previous inspection reports to see whether any issues have been identified in the past and check whether these have been fixed. Those carrying out the inspection need to have the knowledge and experience to see whether standards are being met. In some cases this might include a detailed knowledge of statutory requirements. For example, someone inspecting lifting equipment will need detailed knowledge of the legal requirements for a crane or a forklift truck. You could allocate responsibility for all workers to inspect the housekeeping standards for their immediate area and report any concerns.

Once these things have been agreed, you should decide on the system you will use to make sure all issues are being considered. Just as important is how the reporting system will link in to the process of taking remedial action. Your procedure must ensure that someone has responsibility for remedial action by a certain date. Someone should have responsibility to check that action has been taken in the agreed time. In addition, you may also need to link with any relevant risk assessments, if the issues found at the inspection suggest work procedures, etc. need to be changed.

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