When Did Your Business Last Carry Out A Safety Audit?
Failing to address safety concerns within your workplace could eventually lead to a lawsuit. Remember, prevention is better than cure
It is easier than many employers realise to manage workplace health and safety effectively. The right health and safety procedure for your business need not be difficult, time-consuming or expensive to manage.
This article considers how to conduct an effective safety audit and the importance of regular safety inspections.
Responsibilities for staff
A key player in the safety inspection process is the health and safety officer (or officers), who is/are responsible for helping the business meet its health and safety obligations to staff, visitors and members of the public. The officer must be a ‘competent person’ possessing the knowledge and experience needed for the job.
Together with the safety officer, and other relevant staff or union reps, you need to draw up a plan for the conduct of necessary inspections. The plan can be drafted in the abstract or as part of an initial ‘safety tour’ of the workplace.
The inspection programme needs to be appropriate for the type of work carried out at a given site. A small, administrative office is likely to need a less detailed, prescriptive plan than a kitchen or factory.
A critical, and often overlooked, aspect of this process is the frequency of inspections. How many well-meaning businesses have developed detailed and robust safety regimes only for the execution to fail? Safety checks become less and less frequent, hazards are missed and an accident is inevitable.
The first thing to consider is that health and safety inspections should not be an exercise in box-ticking. The point of the inspection is to ensure that your employees’ work environment is safe with regular inspections to ensure that the workplace stays safe.
Every place of business is unique and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for either the format of an assessment or the frequency. If your office layout doesn’t change, the equipment used by staff doesn’t change and the turnover of staff is low, then it may be appropriate to conduct safety inspections infrequently, maybe six or twelve monthly.
If your staff work in a higher-risk, constantly-changing environment, then it may be safer to conduct some level of inspection on a weekly, or even daily, basis.
The type of inspection you carry out may vary, too. If some hazardous areas or tasks require very frequent safety checks you could conduct a narrowly-focused, daily inspection of key areas, and conduct a more general inspection on a monthly basis.
Type of inspections
The Health and Safety Executive breaks types of inspections down into:
- safety tours
- safety sampling
- safety surveys.
Safety tours are general, overall inspections. They may not be that detailed and may not need to be carried out that often.
Safety sampling describes a process-driven check of specific, high-risk areas and tasks. It may be appropriate to conduct these more often, or at specific, key points.
Safety surveys fall somewhere between the other two types and describe more general inspections of more hazardous areas or activities. Surveys may need to be carried out as frequently as the dangerous areas or processes change, or on a more regular basis, as required.
The frequency of inspections, and the level of detail of each, will depend on the nature of the work and of the workplace. The timescales should be determined by what is required to ensure a workplace remains safe and will need to change and adapt as the work environment does.
Chris Salmon, operations director at Quittance, said:
“While a literal checklist can help remind staff of the critical issues to monitor, an inspection needs to be driven by common sense, an understanding of how the workplace is actually used, and by imagination.
“We’ve seen work accident compensation claims where it has emerged that a hazard was spotted before the accident but not reported. More frequent inspections would have caught the danger. Equally, staff should also be encouraged to be vigilant and proactive, reporting emerging dangers as early as possible.”
Change in legislation
The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 introduced a fundamental change to employers’ liability law in October 2013. Following the change, if an employer has taken ’reasonable steps to prevent accidents or harm’ to employees, the employer is unlikely to be found negligent in the event that an injury claim is made.
While it may be possible to protect a business from liability from a work accident compensation claim by taking ’all reasonable steps’, the goals of health and safety inspections should be broader and more fundamental than avoidance of liability. Safety checks should aim to maintain a safe office and minimise the risk of accidents and injury wherever possible. What’s ’reasonable’ is, in effect, the minimum standard.
Regular health and safety inspections should be treated as the starting point for the management of a safe working environment, not the end of the process.