Environmental and OHS Inspections | 5 Tips for Developing an Effective Checklist
Purpose of Inspection
How do you know that your organisation is actually doing the things you say you do if you don’t check?
Inspections play an important checking or ‘monitoring’ role within quality, environmental and OHS management systems. Inspection is also a widely used method to monitor the implementation and effectiveness of risk controls.
Within mature organisations, inspections are utilised in variety of circumstances. Two examples include plant & equipment inspections and work area inspections.
Plant and Equipment Inspections
Plant and equipment is inspected:
- To ensure it meets requirements before it is accepted on site,
- As part of routine maintenance, to ensure it functions correctly and remains free from unsafe wear,
- To ensure it is in a fit for use condition (e.g. forklift pre-start checks, safety harness pre-use inspection),
- To ensure it is undamaged after a potentially damaging event (e.g. after dropping a ladder or gas detection monitor),
- Periodically throughout its life to ensure it remains in a legally acceptable condition (e.g. pressure vessels, electrical leads).
Work Areas Inspections
Work areas are inspected:
- By safety committees and/or risk assessment teams to identify hazards,
- By maintenance personnel or technicians to ensure equipment is functioning correctly and is free from signs of wear or damage,
- By supervisor to ensure controls are in place (e.g. guarding or bunding) and housekeeping is maintained,
- By management to ensure continued compliance with management system requirements, safe work procedures etc, as well as to observe the behaviours of personnel.
Preparation and Planning
To ensure the most value out of Environmental, Quality or OHS inspections it is important that inspectors can easily identify and record what does and doesn’t meet requirements. A good part of this comes from training and experience but a well developed checklist will dramatically improve the output of these inspections.
5 Tips for Developing Inspection Checklists
1) Target Key Areas of Risk
This comes back to the philosophy of managing what matters. All organisations have limited resources and good business sense (plus relevant legislation) says these resources should be deployed to act on key areas of risk.
After all inspections are administrative controls designed to manage and monitor risk. If you don’t have a risk assessment (or legal compliance requirement) that justifies the need for an inspection, then why would you do one?
2) Inspections Verify Controls
Some organisations confuse the hazard prompts on risk assessment templates with an inspection checklist. Sure, hazards are often found during an inspection but its primary purpose is to verify and monitor existing controls.
For example, a plant and equipment risk assessment might read “Entanglement, Sharp Edges, Noise” etc but an inspection would more likely read “Is guarding in place over all nip points?, Is the revolving light functioning?, Is the reverse alarm functioning?” etc.
3) Ensure checklists are written in plain language
It is no good to write “points of emergency egress are free from obstructions” when what you mean is “emergency exits are clear”. It may seem obvious but there is something that goes on in the human brain when it is asked to put thoughts into words, particularly when those words make up a formal document. One method of ensuring your checklists use plain language is to simply write the check as you would say it to someone, “Mark, can you go down into the warehouse and check if all the convex mirrors are clean?” translates to a form which would read “Are all convex mirrors clean”.
4) Is positive positive or is negative positive?
Avoid switching between negative and positive questions. For example, don’t have check 1 written as “All emergency stop buttons are free from dust and easy identified” (where ‘Yes’ is obviously the desired state) and then have question 2 read “One or more guards are removed from machinery” (where ‘No’ is the answer you would hope for).
Checklists that mix positive and negative are sometimes used on purpose to “make sure people are awake” and not just “ticking and flicking”. The problem is that you are likely to receive a higher portion of false negatives or false positives, simply because switching between negative and positive questions confuses the reader. Most of us have struck this when struggling to answer poorly worded surveys.
The other downside of this approach is it makes it more difficult for supervisors and managers to do quality checks / reviews of completed checklists. Where inspection checklists are worded correctly, a quick quality review would consist of running your eyes down the answers, looking for a “No” (or “Yes”) and reading any included comments. The more difficult we make it for people to verify use of the management system, the more likely they won’t bother.
5) Continuous Improvement
Quality, environmental and OHS Management Systems are designed for continuous improvement. With this in mind, inspections should be regularly done to ensure that they continuously identify areas for improvement. However, it also means that the checklist is not written in stone and needs to respond as opportunities are identified to improve, clarify or simplify it. Note: Make sure this is done in accordance with document control (no free-for-all modification).