A Systems Approach to Hazard Inspections

A systemic approach looks at the organization as a system. A typical system has inputs a process to manipulate the inputs and outputs. All systems work the same. Figure 1 shows a simple system. In this example, materials are the input. The process manipulates those materials to make a good or service that is the output.

 

figure-1

“The whole system can be affected by just one thing or by any one individual” (Fanning, 2003). That is a hazard corrected by the inspection program can create problems and hazards in other areas of the organization. This is often referred to as unintended consequences.

From an accident perspective, this means that a hazard may have occurred days or weeks earlier in another part of the organization away from the point that it causes an accident. It is important to identify who created the hazard or allowed it to exist. This will enable you to determine the steps necessary to prevent a reoccurrence of the hazard. This is done by looking at the management system before correcting hazards. Correcting a hazard in one part of the system can create a hazard in another part of the system. Hazard abatement may only be temporary if you have not identified the other locations that same hazard may exist.

As a safety professional, your primary duties involve management of the safety program as outlined in Figure 2. “Your job is basically to identify, assess, and recommend control measures to reduce hazards. Your duties will revolve in a circular fashion” (Fanning, 2003). You should begin with hazard recognition so that you are working to correct a problem that exists.

figure-2

This book focuses on hazard recognition while conducting an inspection. This involves reviewing the following before conducting an inspection.

  • Accident reports
  • Construction drawings
  • Employee physicals and reports
  • Previous inspection report
  • Hazard surveys
  • Job hazard analysis
  • Equipment analysis
  • Purchase reviews

I have found that it is best to have a safety management information system in place. This is a single information technology solution that allows all safety information to be in a single location. There are products available that you can purchase. However, if you are like me, you do not have a management system. In this book, I can tell you how to create a rough example of one.

If you do not have one, you can put all the accidents, near misses, awards, inspection findings, reports of unsafe working conditions, and citations in a single database using building and room numbers as a reference. Then before an inspection, you can sort and print out all the information for a building to be inspected.

The safety management information system should also include a log for all the violations or hazards found during the inspection. You will also need a hazard abatement plan. This is a form that identifies those hazards that cannot be corrected on the spot and identifies a hazard control plan that will reduce the risk until the hazard can be rectified. This plan is posted next to the hazard, so workers in the area will be aware of it.

Your organization must also use Risk Assessment Codes. These codes are not a full process of risk management. Risk management is normally a five-step process that begins with identifying the hazards, assessing the hazards, identifying control measures, implementing control measures, and supervising the process. They codes are from the utilization of the first two steps of the risk management process. The result is a code that identifies the severity and probability of a hazard to result in injuries, illnesses, or damage to property or the environment (Fanning, 2015).

Your organization must also combine hazards that can be resolved by the same corrective measure whenever possible. For example, don’t fix one fire extinguisher identified as non-operational. Instead, combine all hazards concerning fire extinguishers into a contract for repair. This will get several hazards fixed at one time. Fixing one at a time is not usually a good approach because the same problem is often found later.

The last thing you need to do is identify root causes of the hazards. Let us look at the fire extinguisher example again. What caused all the fire extinguishers that were identified to get that way? Fix that cause, and you will stop the fire extinguishers from being a problem in the future.

What can you get from using a systems approach to inspections? Anyone, using a systems approach, will see a reduction in the cost of correcting hazards primarily because you should be able to fix several hazards with one solution and not fix hazards over again. You should also see an improvement in the process because correcting hazards can improve the processes. You will also look at the way management operates within the system, and by correcting the systemic defects at the management level, improve the system. In a general sense, a management systems approach to hazard inspecting can be used to enhance the system within the organization and not just correct a few hazards. Using a management systems approach leads to the use of human error to control hazards.

About Fred Fanning Author

Fred Fanning spent over 20 years in the safety profession. His final safety position was as the Director of Occupational Safety and Health for the U.S. Department of Commerce. He began writing in 1994, published his first book in 1998, and began writing professionally in 2015. He has authored and coauthored articles, written books, and chapters for technical books and stories for anthologies.
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