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02 Jun 2016

A Simple Guide to Site Safety Inspections

Sweat the Small Stuff. The Big Stuff will look after itself.

Chris Hadfield is a Canadian astronaut who’s spent more than 4,000 hours in space, can play the guitar and is, annoyingly, a good writer too. His bestselling book ‘An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth’ takes lessons learned in space and applies them to life back on the ground. One lesson stands out from the crowd. And it’s this: sweat the small stuff.

Self-help books will tell you repeatedly ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff’. That’s sound advice for parenthood, getting fit and many other day-to-day challenges, but it’s kinda risky advice to take if you’ve a safety audit looming. We’re with Chris Hadfield: do sweat the small stuff, because when you do, the ‘big stuff’ will fall into place.

Here are six simple actions that create a safe and conscientious site:

Management Tours: Regular and informal management safety tours round the site (or through bite-sized chunks of it in turn) will help identify any areas of the site that need attention. These tours might include the construction team’s Managing Director or a senior representative from the client company. Fresh eyes see things that people working on site have become used to and simply stopped seeing. Finds from these tours should be recorded and acted upon – promptly.

PPE checks: Everyone working on a construction site should have the right Personal Protective Equipment or PPE, and know where to find it. PPE should be stored in a dry, clean, accessible place. Someone should be responsible for checking all PPE on a weekly basis and ensuring it is cleaned, maintained, and that enough replacements are available in case of breaks and wear. These checks should be recorded to provide evidence of inspection too. In turn, employees should also report back into this process if there is any problem with PPE – whether it’s broken, faulty, or lost, building up a body of evidence for audits.

Plant checklists: All construction vehicles on site should be checked regularly by someone who is competent and qualified to do so. It sounds obvious, but it’s surprising how often mobile plant is given the once-over by someone who doesn’t know what they’re looking for. As part of a methodical programme of checks, a mechanic should carry out a planned maintenance programme, working through each vehicle, or through each component part (e.g. all plant brakes checked on the 1st of each month). To complement this, workers in turn should complete a pre-use checklist before they take to the wheel. Working together, both of these actions will flag up issues before they become problems and provide evidence for site safety auditing. And don’t forget that certain plant falls under LOLER (lifting equipment regulations) so is subject to specific testing within the defined periods. 

Equipment inspection: It’s not just plant that needs inspecting. All site equipment should be checked for wear and defects prior to use; that includes things like hand tools, lifting straps, electrical equipment and your own PPE. After all, if the handle on your hammer is loose and your hard hat has a crack in it, the likelihood is you’ll end up hurt! 

Safety Inspections: These are more formal inspections carried out by, perhaps, the site safety adviser and/or the site’s project manager, alongside representative workers from the site. Inspections like this may include processes like safety sampling, where checking one aspect of site safety can give a telling indication of standards of safety site-wide. Not only do these inspections pinpoint areas of concern, but they demonstrate senior management’s commitment to the safety of its workers and, when handled well, can improve trust between management and workers. These more high-profile inspections should be scheduled to complement informal management tours, and to prepare for site safety audits carried out by independent auditors.

Planning and follow-up: Gathering these actions into a workplace inspection system will ensure the safety and well-being of workers on site. Your system should consider factors like how often inspections should take place, who is responsible for scheduling inspections, who is responsible for carrying them out, the competencies of those undertaking inspections, and what should be included on checklists. (In addition, there should be some way of capturing issues not on checklists.) It’s worth putting an audit schedule together at the start of a project to ensure you’re inspecting all aspects of the work over the duration of the project, and not focussing on the same few areas. Action planning should record the actions arising from inspections, who is responsible for carrying out corrective actions, and the timescales for doing so. In turn, this will provide a robust body of evidence for safety audit.

By creating your own system from the components above, you’ll ensure that issues on site never become problems with dire consequences. Contractors who don’t carry out their contractual obligations for site safety may risk penalties or loss of contract. And it’s not rocket science that sites with poor safety run the gauntlet of worker accidents, injury and worse. Yikes, that’s big stuff.  

So, if you want to look after the big stuff, sweat the small stuff. It works.