Environment, Health, and Safety (EHS) leaders know that great safety and compliance performance is rooted in vigilance—not just from EHS staff, but from all employees. Maintaining this vigilance isn’t always easy amid the day-to-day pressures of operations. But with regularly scheduled and properly managed EHS inspections, EHS managers can mitigate hazards and capture important data, all while keeping their workforce engaged in their safety and compliance programs.
Whether you’re just beginning to formulate an EHS inspection program or looking to improve your current inspection practices, this seemingly small practice has the potential to make a massively positive impact on your EHS performance and, in turn, your company’s success. Here’s everything you need to know to maximize these benefits for your organization.
An EHS inspection is a routine visual check of a facility, workplace, or process designed and conducted to identify potential hazards or other concerns related to environment, health, safety and regulatory compliance. While the length and type of inspection will vary depending on the needs of your operations, inspections should be more formalized than general workplace walkthroughs and safety observations.
For example, some form of inspection record, preferably in a digital format, should be kept for each inspection for the purposes of reporting and hazard analysis. If these records are kept consistently, they can highlight issues that need special attention before they result in larger problems, and help track progress toward continuous improvement initiatives.
Types of EHS inspections include, but are not limited to:
Housekeeping. Standardized inspections aimed at keeping work areas clean and free of clutter can proactively prevent numerous safety hazards. For example, if oils or other liquids are used or stored on the job site, leak and spill inspections (accompanied by an effective cleanup process) will prevent slip hazards. If cords and/or hoses are a presence on your shop floor, inspections that verify proper cord management practices will prevent trips.
Equipment inspections. Equipment inspections vary depending on the situation. Some equipment should be inspected prior to work use every time—things like fall protection, ladders, and various forms of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Machinery should be inspected and maintained on a regular schedule in accordance with manufacturer safety specifications. And don’t forget about the equipment comprising your facility infrastructure—regular inspections of your ventilation and water systems are necessary to prevent numerous environmental and health hazards.
Process inspections. Certain operational processes require strict adherence to inspection protocols. Examples include lockout/tagout (LOTO) as required under Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards, as well as pre-startup safety reviews under OSHA’s Process Safety Management (PSM) rules.
Inspections guided by industry standards. Depending on your industry, you may have certain inspections that are considered best practices or may be required by federal, state, or local law. For example, aboveground storage tanks (ASTs) are governed by a patchwork of laws and best practices and standards for their inspection are guided by various industry groups.
You may ask, “So…what’s the difference between an inspection and an audit?” While they share some similarities and both play important roles in EHS performance, inspections and audits are different in several important aspects:
Scope. Inspections are more limited in scope, focusing on small, specific processes/tasks rather than taking an audit’s high-level view of overall EHS systems and how they interact with other organizational functions.
Frequency. Inspections are performed routinely and frequently, sometimes every day. Audits are performed less frequently—perhaps quarterly or even annually.
Preparation. While inspections do have a certain level of formalization (often as checklists), they’re tailored to meet a specific purpose and require little preparation to complete once a system is established. Audits usually follow a larger, standardized, comprehensive framework such as ISO 14001, which can require a great deal of preparation, as well as input from experts on the processes under review.
You can learn more about the difference between EHS audits and inspections here.
First and foremost, protecting workers from hazards isn’t just the right thing to do—it’s a legal obligation. OSHA’s General Duty Clause requires employers to provide working conditions “free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees,” and specific inspection requirements are integrated into many OSHA regulations. Well-constructed and well-documented EHS inspections demonstrate that an employer is making a concerted, good-faith effort to meet these compliance requirements.
Other top reasons to perform inspections include:
They engage your workforce. EHS inspections aren’t just performed by EHS staff. They can (and should) be performed by frontline supervisors and employees with firsthand knowledge of the work and its potential associated hazards. It’s a prime opportunity to develop EHS champions among the workforce and ensure more EHS accountability companywide.
They may reveal previously unconsidered hazards. Inspections don’t happen in a vacuum. They occur in the course of work, and encourage a heightened awareness of safety. This heightened awareness may cause workers to recognize new unforeseen hazards, helping them (and you) further refine the inspection process and elevate overall EHS performance.
They create opportunities for corrective and preventive action (CAPA). Inspections allow employees to identify potential hazards and correct them on the spot. By collecting and analyzing data from inspections, EHS managers can recognize trends for system-level CAPA as well.
While a single inspection may be relatively simple, managing inspections across an entire enterprise (especially a large one) can quickly grow complex. This is why software solutions are a must for creating, tracking, maintaining, and archiving inspection processes and results. The right software partner can address all of your unique considerations for managing EHS inspections.
These key considerations include:
Ensuring consistency. Your inspections should be consistently applied so you can ensure you’re always getting an “apples to apples” comparison of EHS conditions day-to-day. EHS checklists or other templates should have the ability to be easily shared across the organization.
Employing accurate, up-to-date checklists. It’s critical to ensure checklists are aligned with your operations. Some vendors may like to sell you “one-size-fits-all” checklists that are easily downloadable … but then are useless to your situation. With a little extra effort (and software support), you can create checklists and procedures that are relevant, focused, and effective for hazard identification and prevention.
Maintaining accountability. Inspections can sometimes be viewed as an obstacle—and that’s when complacency (or, worse, feigned completion) can happen. Applying digital time stamps to inspection event logs can increase accountability, making a tamper-resistant record of who performed the inspection and when. Additionally, associating checklist questions to individual items and assets can help ensure that inspections are thorough and accurate.
Gaining visibility. By using software to manage inspections, you can compile data far more easily than with paper forms. A customized software suite can then take this data for analysis, compile reports, and alert you when inspections are incomplete or missing.
Fostering collaboration and understanding. Most importantly, your inspection process should create a feedback loop to spur continuous EHS improvement and build a strong culture of safety. By providing tools to frontline workers that are easy to access and intuitive to use, they can be empowered to report issues while gaining a clearer understanding of EHS requirements and processes.
In fast-paced workplaces with complex regulatory obligations, lack of consistency and access to information can result in the breakdown of processes and failures of human judgment. Effective EHS inspection management, supported by customizable software, can systematically improve performance by identifying and correcting hazards, engaging frontline workers, and collecting structured data for tracking, trending, and analysis.
Designed with EHS management in mind, Dakota Inspections allows organizations to track inspections, measure pass rates, and quickly identify issues. It features a curated question library specific to EHS processes and OSHA and EPA regulatory requirements.
Click here to learn more about Dakota Inspections and how it can help keep your team engaged, vigilant, and safe every day.