As a food or beverage producer, operational inspections by FDA, USDA or Global Food Safety Initiative officials can seem unending. However, to positively influence the safety culture in your company, you should periodically self-inspect production operations. The payback can be substantial.
“As we see the same machinery and processes daily, it can become easy for employees and management to overlook hazards or risks,” says Troy Tepp, Director of Safety Services for Sentry Insurance. “Making the situation even more difficult to manage is the periodic addition of new equipment or processes that introduce new, unforeseen risks to employees and product quality. The good news is that with limited effort, you can create a self-inspection process to reduce risks in your plant. The results have real value in terms of lower insurance premiums, training, and other uninsured injury expenses.”
First, get approval from your management to invest the time and resources to conduct regular self-inspections. Specify the frequency (weekly, monthly, quarterly or sporadic, to suit your company’s needs) and type most useful – such as:
- General Inspections – conducted at regular intervals to evaluate a standard set of predefined safety conditions and practices throughout your facility. Examples may include slip or fall conditions, forklift traffic, housekeeping and machine guarding.
- Random or Focused Inspections – conducted sporadically to evaluate a particular department, work area, machine or process in which a specific safety concern exists. These may include focus on a new equipment installation or process of which your team inspects critical elements to ensure nothing is overlooked. Your goal is to identify potential risk issues along the way rather than upon completion (when corrections can be very costly).
Once you’re clear on the timing and goals for the self-inspection, you can now begin developing the format best fitting your needs. Consider:
- Basing inspection frequency on the how dynamically conditions or practices change in your plant. Also consider severity of a loss to your company if a failure did occur. Dynamic operations with high loss potential should be inspected more often.
- Start planning your inspection form with an existing template. Your insurance company should be able to provide a good starting-point which you can customize based on reported injuries, accidents and near-misses reported in your plant. A focus on slip and fall conditions, machinery guarding and interlocks, housekeeping and personal protection equipment is appropriate.
Structure your self-inspection process to document:
- Clear details of identified hazards – not just checking a box
- A solution or fix for all identified hazards
- Person(s) responsible for needed solutions
- Target timeline for completing the fix for each observed hazard
On occasion, you may find a long-term investment is needed to resolve a recognized injury or accident hazards. A capital investment proposal may be necessary in such cases.
- Look for repeated items: If the same problems surface, you likely have an issue with training or a design that is elevating the risk of injury or accident.
- Keep score: Use a point-based structure to measure risks – and progress – which will help quantify findings into a score ranking areas or departments, targeting specific areas for improvement and objectively documenting changes.
- Provide management a summary of progress and accomplishments: It raises the credibility of your process.
- Don’t allow target dates to “slide”: Keep solutions on-task.
- “Switch up” inspectors: Bring in a “new sets of eyes” and have inspections done by employees outside those departments. With no preconceived notions of how things are done, an objective outsider can offer a fresh perspective while possibly gaining insight for their own department.
- Rely on credible inspectors: This doesn’t require special training or certification – but the person does need a reputation for being experienced, impartial and respected.