The right to carry out inspections is one of the most important for safety reps - and reps should ensure that a regular programme of inspections is maintained
Right to inspect the workplace
The Safety Representative and Safety Committee Regulations 1977 allow safety reps to do inspections of all or part of the workplace, provided that they have given the employer 'reasonable notice in writing', every 3 months.
In addition, where there have been substantial changes to the workplace, or new information is produced by the Health and Safety Executive that is relevant to the workplace, further inspections can be done before the 3 month interval has passed.
Give written notice
The regulations say that "reasonable notice in writing" should be given to the employer before doing a general inspection. A short note to the line manager or workplace safety officer is sufficient.
Somebody from management may want to accompany the safety rep during the inspection.
There is nothing wrong with this, but reps should not let them distract or persuade the rep not to note down a potential hazard.
Nor is it necessary to alter the planned inspection date to fit in with a management rep, though it might foster better industrial relations not to unreasonably refuse such a request.
Inspections after accidents
Safety reps are also permitted to carry out inspections following an accident or dangerous occurrence, or when a notifiable disease has been contracted.
Notifiable, in this context, means an accident or disease that has to be notified to the enforcing authorities under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and dangerous Occurrences regulations (RIDDOR).
The aim of these inspections is to look for factors which may have caused the incident, in order to plan how to prevent future incidents. Such inspections should be confined to the area around the accident site.
This is a separate right to inspections - and does not require any prior notice to the employer. Where a member complains about something to the safety rep, the rep has a right to investigate and make representations to management.
General inspections give safety reps the opportunity to look at the whole workplace in a systematic way.
The aims of an inspection are to:
- look for hazards or potential hazards
- talk to members about any problems in doing their job and explain to them what PCS is doing on health and safety in the workplace
- look at how work is being done - are safe systems being followed.
Avoid the temptation for general inspections to become a routine wander around the workplace - otherwise less obvious hazards could be missed.
One way of minimising this is, occasionally to get another safety rep to accompany the local rep - a fresh pair of eyes may questions things that the local rep has come to accept as 'always being there'.
- machinery - are guards in place, has maintenance been done
- systems of work - are they safe, are they followed
- hazardous substances - as they used and stored safely
- manual handling - is it done by trained staff using correct aids
- the workplace - is it clean, tidy, no trailing wires
- fire precautions - are extinguishers in place, are fire escape routes clear
- welfare facilities - is the first aid box in place, are toilets properly cleaned
This is just a short list - a fuller list is available through the link at the bottom the page.
Most reps will build up their own checklists of issues that require particular attention in their areas and workplaces.
Safety reps should request copies of all risk assessments that have been carried out and, during the inspection, check whether the all the 'protective and preventive measures' identified in the assessment are still in place.
Actions after inspections
It is important that inspections are followed up in a systematic way.
The PCS health and safety inspection report form should be used to make management aware of problems and hazards.
Reps can use it after formal inspections and also to report other items that you notice or are brought to your attention.
Record the date and time of the inspection, or when the problem was noticed.
Give a full description of the hazard, including it's location.
Sign and date the form.
Give it a consecutive number - this helps in keeping records.
Take two copies of the form to the management safety officer, give one to them and get them to sign and date the other which you should retain. This shows proof of receipt.
Management should inform the rep, in due course, of remedial actions taken.
How long should be allowed for this will vary, depending on the nature of the hazards, but prompt attention should be paid to serious hazards.
Responses should be in writing, enabling these to be linked with the original report forms.
Safety reps should regularly report back to members about issues raised with management and their responses.
Health and safety inspection form