Health and safety committee member orientation.

Workplace inspections

Module 4.1 - Background

Workplace inspections are another part of a committee member’s duties. Workplace inspections are required by law; a part of the workplace must be inspected once per month, so as to inspect the entirety of the campus once per year (i.e. annually). Any worker member may conduct a health and safety committee inspection; however, it is strongly recommended not to conduct a workplace inspection on your own. There are unknowns and potential hazards which you may not be aware of; always do workplace inspections with a competent person.

Additionally, the University has a Joint Health and Safety Committee inspector who assists (on the committee’s behalf) with workplace inspections. The inspector represents workers on the health and safety committee. If you’re interested in doing a workplace inspection, please contact the Committee Inspector to verify outstanding areas that are required to be inspected.

Workplace inspections are a unique opportunity for the member to ask front-line workers about their concerns; after all, the end-users are the experts in what they do on a day-to-day basis. It also allows the committee member to gain knowledge about the worker’s job and identify potential hazards that are possibly overlooked on a day-to-day basis. The committee member may be able to help identify the cause of a given event and may be able to recommend corrective action(s).

At times, health and safety inspectors can be thought of as “safety police”. While an inspector does identify health and safety deficiencies, they serve as an invaluable resource to assist in making the campus a safer place for everyone. As inspectors, you are not finding fault, you are finding a means of improvement from a health and safety perspective. If you happen to see something that requires corrective action, ensure to note it down on the inspection report. If something requires immediate action, speak with a supervisor of the area to correct it. Do not correct the issue yourself.

Module 4.2 - Inspection preparation

Prior to conducting a workplace inspection, there are a few items that should be considered, such as:

  • The history of the area – are there accidents, incidents, or near misses? Is there are defined trend or frequency?
  • The type of equipment and work processes involved – is there heavy equipment, or unique procedures that require special training or knowledge?
  • Shift work and the time or length of the shift.
  • Has new machinery, equipment or procedures been introduced in the area?

In preparing for an inspection, it is generally advisable to consult

  • Building plans
  • Historical inspection reports
  • Equipment inventories (if available);
  • Chemical inventory for the area;
  • Example checklists (PDF, 1MB) for the type of environment that you’re intending on inspecting.

Some useful tools to consider prior to departing for a workplace inspection may include:

  • Paper / writing instrument or recording tool. You will need something to write down your findings. Even situations where no hazard is observed must be documented as “no findings”.
  • Protective equipment appropriate for the environment; this may include protective footwear, eyewear, hearing protection, etc.
  • Appropriate clothing, such as long pants, closed toed shoes, etc.
  • A flashlight for dark or small spaces.
  • A camera, which is perhaps one of the most useful tools.

Speak with your inspection partner if you’re unsure what else may be required.

Module 4.3 - Types of hazards

A hazard is the inherent property of a substance, process, or activity that predisposes it to the potential for causing harm to health, safety or human welfare.. A hazard can cause injury, illness, or both, depending on the specific situation(s).

Hazards to consider during inspections may include

  • Biological hazards such as viruses, moulds, fungi
  • Chemical hazards such as proper storage, labelling, etc.
  • Biomechanical hazards such as awkward movements, repetitive motions, etc.
  • Physical hazards such as noise, temperature, radiation, etc.
  • Psychosocial hazards such as stress, violence, harassment, etc.

Most hazards identified will fit into one of these overarching categories; however, if there is something that you’re not sure of, you can always document and describe the issue to verify later.

It is important to note that no one is an expert in everything; you may have knowledge of particular processes and equipment, but you’re going to need help with unique situations and environments you’re not familiar with.

When conducting an inspection, you should have knowledge of the types of hazards in the environment; however it is generally recommended not to inspect your own workplace due to the subconscious biases that may exist as well as the “acceptable” hazards that we live with on a regular basis. Instead, try a different, yet similar work location. As an example, if you regularly work in a workshop in the Faculty of Engineering, try a health and safety inspection in a workshop in the Faculty of Science or Arts. This practice will allow the workplace to be seen with a different, but competent, set of eyes.

Module 4.4 - Conducting an inspection

When actually doing the inspection, you need to be accompanied by a competent person who is familiar with the area you are inspecting. In most cases, the Facility Manager, Building Management Agent or Health, Safety and Risk Manager will be one of the best sources of information.

Some areas can be very large; it is advisable to divide such areas into sections and move through the sections systematically looking for potential hazards, while focusing on immediate danger. If other workers are in the area, ask questions about their workspace, equipment, etc. Do they have any health and safety-related concerns? What are their concerns?

If possible, take pictures or make drawings of the area – a picture of a potential hazard is much easier to explain. Finally, do not rely exclusively on checklists – a checklist provides a helpful prompt, but they simply cannot capture everything that may be present within the workplace.

Each finding will have a priority assigned to it, indicating the follow-up timeframe. The priority may range from “immediate action” to “action with 21 days”. It is the supervisor / facility manager / building management agent’s responsibility to respond to the finding(s).

Module 4.5 - Common findings

Throughout the inspection process, there are some common findings that continue to manifest themselves in various environments.

For Offices, common hazards include unsecured filing cabinets, bookcases or wall units, electrical “daisy chains” where several cords or power bars are plugged in sequence, areas where lighting is insufficient for the tasks, and ergonomic concerns from workers.

For Labs, common hazards include the method of storage for chemical products, proper use of fume hoods, storage and inspection, evidence of food and drink within laboratory areas, access to emergency equipment, and unguarded equipment.

For Facilities and Protection, common hazards include damaged infrastructure, slippery surface conditions, and working with designated substances.

Module 4.6 - Corrective measures

The corrective action may be the correction of the hazard or the interim corrective action, with a plan to permanently address the hazard. When hazards are identified, there are varying means to correct them. There are preferred methods and are arranged in a hierarchy, with controls instituted at the source of the hazard being the most preferred. If controls at the source are not feasible (or reasonable), controls implemented along the path of transmission are the next most desirable. Finally, as a last resort, personal protective equipment can be provided in order to minimize the hazard at the receiver (or worker).

The types of control can vary; however, they are generally grouped into these categories:

Engineering controls – these protect the large majority of individuals by augmenting physical equipment or instituting physical barriers (such as guarding).

Administrative controls – these practices works to reduce exposure to the hazard via shorter exposure time (such as shorter shifts).

Personal protective equipment – these are the devices that individuals wear to protect themselves from hazards that cannot otherwise be controlled (such as a respirator, protective eyewear, hard hat, etc.). Personal protective equipment is considered the “last line of defense”.

Module 4.7 - What happens after the inspection?

Once an inspection is conducted, the inspection report is written. The report is sent to the facility manager, the building management agent, the committee co-chairs and the person(s) conducting the inspection. If the Joint Health and Safety Committee Inspector was not involved with the inspection, the report must also be sent to [email protected].

The facility manager or building management reviews the report and initiates the required corrective action (if any) within the priority timeframe. The inspection report (including the corrective action) is returned to the Joint Health and Safety Committee Inspector. If the facility manager or building management agent disagrees with a recommendation, a response is still required and must give the reasons for disagreement. The response must be provided within the priority timeframe.