Workplace Inspections: What You Need to Know

Machine inspection during a workplace audit

Workplace inspections are a great way to stay proactive when it comes to the health and safety of employees. A comprehensive inspection will include everything from daily equipment/startup inspections to weekly or monthly supervisor inspections, including training and toolbox talks. Government agencies in Ontario began inspection blitzes April 1, which is another big motivator for companies to be prepared.

Power Can Be Intimidating

A visit from an agency like the Ministry of Labour can be intimidating. The fact that a MOL inspector may enter a workplace without warrant or notice plays a big role in that. There’s no question, these inspectors are powerful. And once they’ve begun their inspection, they are permitted to speak to any person, take pictures, look at records and documents and make copies of them, and have access to any equipment or machinery on site.

But it’s important to recognize that agencies like the MOL that conduct workplace inspections aren’t out to get you. Some sites are chosen at random, but often sites are selected based on previous incidents and compliance history. Other factors include new businesses, the presence of new and young workers on site, and the severity of on-site hazards. At the end of the day, both parties have the same goal: a safe and healthy workplace.

How to Plan for Inspections

The most important part of planning for an inspection is to be prepared at all times. The workplace should be inspected by the joint health and safety committee at least once a month; the majority of workplace accidents and injuries are preventable and these workplace inspections are the key to identifying the hazards. Additionally, teaching employees to report unsafe behaviour or hazards could save lives and help employers address issues before an inspector arrives.

What’s in an Inspection?

The easiest thing to cross off your inspection list is to make sure that all legislated documentation is in an area accessible to all employees (e.g., Occupational Health and Safety Act and any regulations relevant to the company’s industry). This includes a posted health and safety policy (signed and dated annually), workplace violence and harassment policy, and a prevention awareness poster.

Next, make sure that all outstanding corrective actions have been completed from a previous inspection. It’s easy to make a to-do list and then forget about it until the next inspection. It is necessary to follow up on corrective actions immediately after the inspection to ensure they’re completed—if an outside inspector were to come on site, they will be checking for this.

It is also vital to keep records up to date. Training records not only prove that workers have received appropriate training, including orientation and certifications, but they also demonstrate that employees are competent to be on certain job sites. Emergency response and evacuation should also be included under the training umbrella. 

Preventative maintenance needs to be scheduled and recorded, including pre-use equipment inspection logs. Inspection reports ensure that every site has been assessed to identify potential hazards, controls have been implemented where necessary and a safe operating procedure has been developed. Accident investigation, injury and incident reporting, including near misses, need to be documented regularly, as well as training first aid records and documentation.

Visual inspections can easily determine good housekeeping, proper signage (wet floor, PPE required, etc), correct storage, PPE use, material handling, material storage and material safety data sheets, machine safety, lack of guarding, and equipment damage. Visual inspections can also address specific priorities like solutions put in place to prevent musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and ergonomic ailments. Finally, it is important for an inspector to see that defective equipment has been tagged and removed from service. 

Preparing for workplace inspections may seem like an exhaustive list of things to do, but staying on top of these issues will ensure that your site is meeting the minimum safety requirements these inspections will be looking for. Plus, if an external inspector arrives unannounced (as they often do), you’ll be prepared to take them confidently through your site knowing there won’t be any “surprises” waiting to greet them.