Construction Safety Inspections – The Ultimate Guide
Let’s start with some statistics from OSHA (US Occupational Safety and Health Administration) to stress the importance of improving safety on construction sites:
Out of 4,693 worker fatalities in private industry in calendar year 2016, 991 or 21.1% were in construction — that is, one in five worker deaths that year were in construction. The leading causes of deaths in the construction industry were falls, followed by struck by object, electrocution, and caught-in/between. These “Fatal Four” were responsible for more than half (63.7%) the construction worker deaths in 2016. Eliminating the Fatal Four would save 631 workers’ lives in America every year.
This means on average there are almost 3 fatalities every day on construction sites in the US! Not to mention injuries or all kinds of incidents that cause damages, delays, bad reputation, etc.
As these numbers demonstrate, and as I will explain here below, it would be a big mistake to view inspections as a burden or a formality. The benefits of safety inspection reports are huge… and not limited to the safety of your workers!
Although the chances of (severe) accidents are low in theory, the impact when an incident does happen can be huge—both in terms of the health of your workers and the profitability of your company.
President Eisenhower said:
“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”
With non-urgent tasks we tend to think:
“This one hour of exercising/family time/meditation/planning… won’t make such a big difference. And I have so much work on my plate… I’ll skip it today and I’ll try again tomorrow.”
And so it is with safety inspections: very important, but never super urgent.
Your next safety inspection is never urgent, but in the long run, repeatedly skipping safety inspections will translate into a reality of incidents happening. These incidents will have a significant impact on the wellbeing of your workers and on your ROI.
Overall, construction companies—large and small—are reporting positive financial impacts from safety programs. And the size of those benefits increases as the depth of the program increases. In an industry that operates on low margins, this is a powerful finding.
Let’s take a look at the benefits of safety
1) Worker safety and retention
First of all, you want your workers to be safe. You want them going home in the same condition they came to work in.
Companies that fail to provide safe work environments are unable to retain their workforce, at least in the long term.
On the contrary, when companies comply with regulations, provide all necessary PPE, eliminate jobsite hazards and risks, and listen to their workers when concerns are raised, they enjoy the benefits of safe worksites—which translates into both a high retention rate of current workers and an increased flow of new ones.
In times of construction worker shortage, this alone can give you a big competitive advantage. But there’s more.
A well-performing safety program will give you a big advantage in the marketplace. Developers are becoming more interested in safety programs as well. They recognize that a safety-conscious general contractor reduces their potential liability for lawsuits and bad publicity. A safety program is a legitimate marketing advantage that allows you to separate your firm from your competition.
A safety program is a benefit from an operational standpoint as well, as it will prevent you from suffering incidents and project disruptions that create delays and waste time. Obviously, this leads to improved performance and more on-time project deliveries.
Also, workers will come to your job sites trusting that they operate within a safe work environment, which improves both morale and productivity.
Let’s also not forget that injuries lead to higher insurance premiums and potential fines.
If OSHA or another outside person/agency inspects the work site, you will have clear documentation about the inspections that have been performed. For example, if a crane on your jobsite malfunctions but you have documentation showing it was recently inspected, you can demonstrate you followed proper safety procedures.
=> Let’s sum up the benefits of construction safety once more:
- Your workers will be safe
- It will be easier for you to find and retain workers
- It will give you a reputation advantage and help you win deals
- It will reduce delays (due to incidents) and insurance premiums while increasing worker morale and productivity
- It will help you comply with regulations (and avoid fines)
Applying the best practices listed in this article will increase the success of your safety program and your safety inspections. So keep on reading.
In this guide you’ll learn the following:
- What are construction safety inspections?
- Construction safety inspections: How often and by whom?
- Best practices for safety inspection site visits
- Safety inspections and checklists
- What goes into a safety inspection report?
- Best practices for safety inspection reports
- How to draft safety inspection reports without spending an hour at the end of the day
- How to select the right safety inspection app
- Best practices for getting the most out of your safety inspections
What are construction safety inspections?
Construction safety inspections are the most effective means of catching and countering bad habits and hazards.
Supervisors and safety officers walk the jobsite several times a week, observing work in progress, documenting violations and potential hazards, and implementing corrective actions before injuries and accidents can occur.
Next to inspections, the two most important components of a good safety program are planning and training.
Planning ahead, for example by doing a pre-task planning session every day, allows workers to see and avoid mishaps before they occur. Assess the tasks to be performed during that day or week and identify hazards, then eliminate them.
Provide extensive training for everyone. One reason constant training is important is due to the ever-evolving nature of personal protective equipment (PPE). By training regularly, a contractor can address these changes in regulation proactively. Every time your people are trained, they become more capable and more focused on safety.
Construction safety inspections: How often and by whom?
How often should you we do safety inspections?
As in all things, it depends—but here’s a useful guideline:
Informal inspections should be done by all supervisors whenever they are out on site. Such inspections identify hazardous conditions and either correct them immediately or report them for corrective action. The frequency of these inspections varies with the frequency and conditions of equipment use.
Formal documented inspections are ideally done weekly by supervisors and monthly by health and safety representatives.
It’s also a good idea to get project managers or even company leadership involved with inspections to emphasize their importance.
Best practices for safety inspection site visits
Here are a couple of useful tips for executing safety inspection site visits:
- Draw attention to the presence of any immediate danger. Other items can await the final report.
- Shut down any hazardous items that cannot be brought to a safe operating standard until repaired.
- Do not operate equipment. Ask the operator for a demonstration. If the operator of any piece of equipment does not know what dangers may be present, this is cause for concern. Never ignore any item because you do not have knowledge to make an accurate judgment of safety.
- Look up, down, around and inside. Be methodical and thorough. Do not spoil the inspection with a “once-over-lightly” approach.
- Make “on-the-spot” recordings of all findings before they are forgotten.
- Ask questions, but do not unnecessarily disrupt work activities.
- Consider operational factors, such as how the work is organized or the pace of the work, and how these factors impact safety.
- Discuss as a group whether any problem, hazard or accident might generate from a given work situation. Determine what corrections or controls are appropriate.
- Take a lot of photos.
Safety inspections and checklists
The goal of safety inspections is to identify hazards—and the best way to do that is with a checklist. With everything written down, it’s easy to make sure you’ve covered all your bases, reducing the chance of missing a potential hazard.
For his must-read book The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Awnada interviewed experts from many disciplines (pilots, doctors, contractors).
His conclusion? People need checklists to execute projects efficiently. Checklists reduce the risk of mistakes and increase the likelihood everything will get done as specified.
When it comes to safety inspections, a checklist is a powerful way to ensure you don’t overlook important details. They free up your mental RAM.
The checklist should be comprehensive, covering the following topics at a minimum:
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Has the correct gear been distributed to all workers? Is each piece of equipment in good repair?
- Tools and equipment: Are they in proper working order? Are people using the right tool for the job?
- Fall protection methods: Is fall protection in use? Is it properly set up?
- Protective devices and signs: Are welders surrounded by a curtain to protect others? Are signs easy to read and warnings clear?
- Electrical concerns: Are electrical cords safe, and kept off the floor? Is there proper lighting? Is temporary electricity safely installed?
- Scaffolding: Are all connections secure? Is scaffolding tied to the structure? Are all connections secure?
From here you can download a sample construction safety inspection checklist (Excel).
Now, let’s move on to the safety inspection reports that result from the inspections.
What goes into a safety inspection report?
Obviously, not all safety inspection reports will look the same. Depending on your business and the type of projects you perform, you’ll need to include different items.
Here are the most common elements of a safety inspection report:
- Project information: add the project name, project number, address, name of the person who created the report, etc.
- Report date: If you want to record what happened or what didn’t happen on particular day or week, you need to put the date on your report.
- Safety hazards and incidents:
- Copy all unfinished items from the previous report on the new report.
- Document all safety risks and observations with enough photos to illustrate the issue. Add recommended methods of control.
- In the case of accidents or incidents, record who they impacted, who was involved, when and where they occurred, the impact on work, and any photos of the event.
- Number each item consecutively.
- Classify hazards. A hazard rating establishes priorities for corrective action and also highlights the level of severity or seriousness of the hazards.
- Add a due date to the items.
- Assign the items so responsibilities are clear. This will facilitate accountability and prevent problems from slipping through the cracks. It’s not enough for workers to note they found problems; those problems also need to be resolved quickly.
- Make sure the location of the item is clear, e.g. by adding annotations to a floor plan
- Signatures: Optionally, you can ask people present to sign off the report.
Best practices for safety inspection reports
Your inspections and reports are the basis for corrective actions and follow-up, which will prevent incidents from happening in the first place. So it’s worthwhile to make your safety reports are effective by following these best practices:
- Provide sufficient detail: State exactly what has been detected and accurately identify its location, together with pictures.
- Document items and file reports as early as possible: Memories can fade quickly. The shorter the time frame between events and notation, the more accurate the reports will be. Using an app, you can document observations immediately. Copies of inspection reports should also be sent to management
- Readability: Keep it simple, use common language, and include enough pictures. Don’t use specialist terms, but don’t be too prosaic, either. Just stick to a concise and clear description of the facts so anyone can read and understand the reports. Also remember that often people don’t read long texts, but they will look at pictures. As the old adage goes, a picture says more than a 1000 words, so make sure to include enough pictures.
- Layout and branding: Clean, structured, professional reports that include the company’s logo, header, footer, and other branding will radiate a professional attitude regarding safety towards all parties involved (client, workers, subcontractors, etc). If you demonstrate that you are being serious about safety, others will be more inclined to be serious as well.
- Include positive elements, too: When certain safety risks are managed well, or when a hazard that had been registered during a previous inspection has been addressed, don’t forget to compliment the workers on site and to mention this on your inspection report as well. People will be more receptive to your advice — and like you better, too. Safety officers that only include problems and non-conformities in the report rarely achieve good results. Including compliments and positive items are great for worker motivation. With positive reinforcement, you add a reward for workers exhibiting desired behavior. Rewarding good conduct, rather than punishing negative actions, is a proven method to help promote positive behavior in both children and adults. By doing so you reinforce the desired action, which has a much stronger effect than punishment.
Here is a preview of a safety report generated with ArchiSnapper:
How to draft safety inspection reports without spending an hour at the end of the day
If you’re still reading, you probably have no doubt that safety management and safety inspections are fundamental. Nevertheless, there has to be a better way to draft your safety report than having to spend at least an hour to manually put it together: writing out the text, inserting photos, managing the layout of the report, etc.
It’s no secret that construction safety reports are a big struggle for safety officers and supervisors.
With today’s technology, safety inspection reports do not require that much effort. With tools like ArchiSnapper, you can easily fill in a checklist, take photos and write text (or use voice to text), and the inspection reports will immediately be made available for everyone. Your logo, header, footer and other branding and layout settings will be applied automatically.
With such an app you can use your tablet or phone on site. Just open the app, tap “new report,” and provide the required data:
- Fill in the project status
- Review a checklist
- Write texts or use the voice-to-text functionality
- Take photos and annotate them
- Have the report signed off (if needed)
- Find the report archived to your cloud automatically, together with the signed versions and distribution history
This way, you won’t have to spend an hour or so typing out scribbled notes, transferring pictures from your phone to your PC and then importing them into the report, or struggling with the layout in Word.
Curious to see how this works with ArchiSnapper? Check out this video.
How to select the right safety inspection app
When you’re selecting a safety inspection app, make sure to take into account the following:
Less is more. At first, it might be tempting to choose an app with a lot of features, fields, forms, and configurations.
But keep in mind that 90% of the time, you’ll only need 10% of your app’s core functionalities. What you need is a quick and easy way to review your safety checklist from your phone or tablet, with the ability to include photos and notes.
Fewer buttons and functionalities means less risk for bugs, issues, and misunderstandings—and more adoption by your team, more standardization, and less frustration.
Sooner or later, you’ll be without a reliable internet connection. (Think: broken wifi, no 4G network, unpaid telecommunications invoices…)
So make sure your app works offline—and that you can at least capture notes and photos without a connection.
You don’t want to lose all your daily reports if your phone gets stolen or breaks. So your software should have a web backend where your data is synced, and which allows multiple colleagues to access all the inspection reports for viewing, editing, or distribution.
Though it probably goes without saying, your app should work on both your mobile device and computer.
I hear from a lot of safety professionals who prefer to use their phone on-site (to take photos and add quick notes) and then finish the report online from their desktop.
Just a suggestion: I’d avoid buying a Windows device, since the software giant is no longer developing new features or hardware for Windows 10 mobile.
Though your app should be simple, it should also include these essential capabilities and functions:
- Checklist functionality
- The ability to capture notes by typing on your phone/tablet/desktop OR using voice-to-text
- The ability to capture photos with annotations
- The ability to draw and sketch on photos
- The ability to generate safety reports in PDF format with branding
- Signature capture functionality
- The ability to email the PDF construction reports to all parties involved
- Automatic data archiving and backups
- The ability to export/import data from other systems
- Auto-numbering of items and reports
Best practices for getting the most out of your safety inspections
Doing safety inspection visits and generating safety reports takes a lot of time and energy. So don’t forget to apply the following practices in order to get the best results from this process.
Prior to doing inspections you need to make sure to have a checklist, an inspection schedule, that inspection members are trained, etc.
You also must develop a plan for using your data, not just collecting it. How will the findings be communicated and shared? Will they be corrected in a timely manner and tracked to completion? As trends develop, how will action plans be developed and implemented to prevent reoccurrence?
For most construction companies, each jobsite has its own unique risks. Devote time before construction starts to identify those risks and establish a plan to address them. Communicate this safety analysis regularly to workers so they know what hazards to expect and how to work around them.
Observations are the beginning, not the end, of the inspection process.
Any health and safety deficiencies identified during the inspection should be noted and corrective action should be taken. Follow up to see that the corrective action has been taken and that the hazard has been effectively dealt with. That’s why it makes sense to always start from your previous inspection report and keep unfinished items in the report—and mark solved items as “OK.” (Positive reinforcement, remember!)
Where inspections are being done by the company’s health and safety coordinator or the site health and safety representative, the site supervisor should accompany them so that any corrective action needed can be implemented as soon as possible.
Most companies stop once the inspection is completed and the initial hazards are discovered, shared, and fixed (i.e., once the moles are whacked). This is a major error that will prevent meaningful improvements in the safety process.
If you are not conducting trend analysis on the observations you collect, these incidents could be happening quite often. Ideally, you should be looking at trends and leading metrics on a number of fronts, for instance:
- What are the top hazards identified by hazard category?
- Who are the most at-risk contractors?
- What are the most at-risk projects?
- What recurring trends are developing?
By tracking and trending this information, you can turn collected data into actionable information.
Don’t shoot the messenger
It is essential that the observation reporting, especially significant hazards, be non-punitive and protected. In other words, don’t shoot the messenger! This often occurs from a misperception that finding unsafe observations is a reflection of how well one does the job, which will then reflect poorly on the observer or project team. It also can occur if a senior manager reacts poorly to the discoveries, such as reprimanding the observer or failing to act on the data collected.
Key to the success of any safety program is strong commitment, support, and backing from management. Frontline supervisors and safety officers do the majority of planned general inspections, but middle and upper management must also conduct safety tours.
Whatever the project manager and leadership focuses on will be viewed by the team as important. The old saying, “Actions speak louder than words,” is true. Project managers who place a premium on integrating safety into their projects will ensure better overall project performance. They set the tone, agree to and enforce standards, and establish the concept that focusing on safety is the only way to do business.
Furthermore, workers and their representatives should also be involved in all aspects of your safety program—including setting goals, identifying and reporting hazards, investigating incidents, and tracking progress.
Workers should be encouraged and have the means to communicate openly with management, to report safety and health concerns without fear of retaliation.
Here’s an extra note on urgent vs. important activities: Stephen Covey popularized the what he calls “Eisenhower Decision Matrix” in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
In my opinion, you should read this book—but if you don’t, at least spend 10 minutes reading this article on it. You can apply these principles to both your personal and professional life.
Safety inspections are an example of a Q2 (important but not urgent) activity. According to Covey, we should seek to spend most of our time on Q2 activities, as they’re the ones that provide us lasting happiness, fulfillment, and success.
The problem is we all have an inclination to focus on whatever is most pressing at the moment. Doing so is our default mode. It’s hard to get motivated to do something when there isn’t a deadline looming over our head. Departing from this fallback position takes willpower and self-discipline—qualities that don’t come naturally and must be actively cultivated and expressed.