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Inspect to correct: How to hunt for workplace hazards


December 10, 2017
Joe Terrett

Check for safety hazards, such a slippery surfaces. PHOTO: FOTOLIA

Hazards exist under desks, on the plant floor, in the air and pretty much any other place where people work. A regular inspection of the workplace prevents injuries and illnesses by identifying and eliminating actual and potential hazards.

But there’s more to a workplace inspection than just looking around. It involves listening to people’s concerns, fully understanding jobs and tasks, determining the underlying causes of hazards, monitoring controls, and recommending corrective action.

What must an inspection examine? Who, what, where, when and how, plus a careful look at the environment, equipment and processes.

Pay particular attention to equipment and items most likely to develop unsafe or unhealthy conditions because of stress, wear, impact, vibration, heat, corrosion, chemical reaction or misuse.

Look for biological (viruses and mould), chemical (cleaners, adhesives, paints), ergonomic (repetitive and forceful movements, computer workstations), safety (inadequate machine guards, slippery surfaces), and physical hazards (noise, heat, cold).

All in the details

A detailed inspection report includes a diagram of the work area, a complete inventory of equipment and chemicals used, plus checklists to help clarify inspection responsibilities and provide a record of activities.

Have a schedule that specifies when inspections will take place and in which areas, who conducts them and how detailed they’ll be. Frequency may be set in your legislation and high hazard or risk areas require extra attention.

Inspectors must wear required personal protective equipment, and should follow these basic principles:

• Draw attention to any immediate danger. Other items can await the final report.

• Shut down and “lock out” any hazardous items that can’t be brought to a safe operating standard until repaired.

• Look up, down, around and inside. Be methodical and thorough.

• Describe each hazard with its exact location in your rough notes. Allow on-the-spot recording of all findings before they’re forgotten.

• Ask questions, but do not unnecessarily disrupt work activities.

Consider the static (stop position) and dynamic (in motion) conditions of the item you are inspecting. If a machine is shut down, consider postponing the inspection until it’s functioning again.

• Discuss as a group any problem, hazard or accident that could be generated from a situation involving the equipment, process or environment. Determine appropriate correction or controls.

• Photograph a situation if you’re unable to clearly describe or sketch it.

• Don’t operate equipment. Ask the operator for a demonstration. Be concerned if the operator doesn’t know what dangers may be present. Never ignore any item because you do not have knowledge to make an accurate safety judgement.

• Don’t try to detect all hazards simply by relying on your senses or by looking at them. You may have to monitor equipment to measure the levels of exposure to chemicals, noise, radiation or biological agents.

In the final inspection report, include all unfinished items from the previous one for follow up. Specify the exact location of each hazard, a detailed description of the problem, the recommended corrective action, and a definite date for correction. Assign a priority level (major, serious, minor) to each hazard to indicate the urgency of the required corrective action.

When an inspection is completed, it’s not over. The health and safety committee should review the reports to recommend corrective action where needed, then review progress. This will help to identify trends.

This article was contributed by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). The Hamilton-based organization provides information, training, education, management systems and solutions that support health and safety programs in the workplace.

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