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How to Energize Your Safety Inspection Process

Nov. 14, 2012
Are your safety inspections becoming routine? If something is lacking in your safety inspection process, maybe one of these suggestions from Milliken & Co., a two-time America's Safest Company, can help energize employees and improve the process.

Common practice for safety inspections entails review of a lengthy list of compliance-slanted audit elements by a small number of safety professionals or other managers. While this process has merit, your overall safety inspection mechanism can be enhanced in order to energize the culture and achieve even greater returns.

These five easy launch steps will move your safety process from common to uncommon while energizing your entire plant:

1. Simplify – Create a "safety sweep audit" mechanism which gives everyone in the organization the ability to conduct an audit in 30 minutes or less. How? Develop a strategic, one-page template that includes targeted elements (conditions, compliance and behaviors) specific to the functional inspection area. Limit the content to 10-15 critical items of common need or common discrepancy, using adequate clarity to define the expectation of each element. Limit the scope of the inspection area to a reasonable size.

2. Define Output Expectations – When developing the safety sweep audit template, consider your desired and expected outputs.  Your template should request a response for required corrective actions to discrepancies. Examples include spot correction, peer feedback, work order initiated, etc. Each person conducting a sweep audit learns proper safety elements of the area and understands his or her individual role in maintaining safety expectations. It becomes less culturally acceptable to create or ignore safety discrepancies in the work zone when routine audits are conducted over long periods of time.

3. Establish a Scoring Mechanism – While developing the safety sweep audit template, also consider a method of defining the results of the inspection. A few checks or X marks do little to reference the results or to stimulate our ownership spirit. I recommend using a score of 50, 80 or 100 percent, which takes us back to our school days and indicates a level of accomplishment that we can internalize. Coupled with a method of reinforcement, this can provide an element of energy and competition for safety compliance.

4.    Define the Process Loop – When the template is developed, the flow of the safety sweep audit through the proper sequence of steps must be defined. Ensure the effectiveness of the process by establishing distribution points, review points and destination points. Each auditor must know where to obtain a template and understand the scope of the audit zone. The auditor also should know the person with whom to review the observations and corrective actions to ensure proper outcomes. This is the quality assurance checkpoint, which promotes accuracy and provides assistance in escalating needed actions such as work orders. Finally, the completed sweep audit must be channeled through any chain of command as needed, ending at a final destination point. Each site or organization must define the process loop that works best in their operational culture and train everyone involved to use the process correctly.

5.    Involve the Work Force – Once your template and the process loop have been defined, it's time to train and involve more employees in the safety sweep audit concept. Train all management and supervisory employees prior to implementing the process at the floor level to cascade this new technique through the various operational levels. Floor employees must become involved in order to generate a sustainable mechanism.

Select key individuals to become members of an audit team. Each member will conduct a safety sweep audit on a designated schedule or frequency. Once trained and competent to teach others, this group can impart their knowledge to another selected group, and so on, until much or all of the work force is involved. Another approach is to train many on a more aggressive scale, perhaps the entire work force. Select the approach that best fits your operational culture, remembering that involving many employees in the sweep audit process is the overall objective.

A detailed safety inspection has much merit and always should be included in an organization's safety administration process. The concept detailed above should be viewed as a supplemental tool to increase knowledge and energy throughout your organization. Further concept enhancements, which help drive and sustain this process, and a review of how to handle gaps identified by audits, will be discussed in the December issue of EHS Today.

Mike Powell has been at Milliken for 32 years. He's served in manufacturing, employment/education, human resources and safety roles across 11 different manufacturing sites and five technologies at Milliken. Currently, he leads safety system implementations at several leading client organizations as part of Performance Solutions by Milliken, Milliken's consulting services group, which helps clients successfully navigate toward safety and operational excellence. For more information, visit

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