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March 09, 2018
Tips for a safety walkaround

When interacting with employees, good managers should be good listeners; should be skilled at asking nonthreatening questions that produce honest, useful answers and suggestions for improvement; and should follow up in a timely manner with actions that address the legitimate concerns of the employees.

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For managers conducting safety walkarounds, these general guidelines are a good starting point. In addition, a safety walkaround should include more specific steps that will help the manager identify and mitigate hazardous conditions. Very often, employers and managers who want to demonstrate their commitment to improving employee safety must overcome the reluctance of employees to voice concerns the employees may view as critical of the workplace, the managers, or the employers. The personal interactions that occur during a safety walkaround provide the opportunity for mutually respectful communication that will ultimately improve employee morale and safety and lead to better productivity.

OSHA’s fact sheet

OSHA recently issued a fact sheet that includes the following suggestions for safety walkarounds by managers.

  • Prepare. Familiarize yourself with the workplace and its operations and hazards that have been previously identified. For example, examine past inspection reports, injury and workers’ compensation records, incident investigation reports, and recent near-miss incidents. One key objective of a walkaround is to determine if any previously identified hazards have been mitigated.
  • Wear the proper PPE. Wear the same personal protective equipment (PPE) the employees wear. “Nothing takes away credibility faster than having the wrong PPE or not wearing it properly,” says OSHA. Consider taking the same hazard identification safety training taken by workers.
  • Intimidation is not the objective. Limit the size of the inspection group. Large groups tend to stifle open communication with workers.
  • Look for injury precursors. For example, property damage such as walls or doors damaged by equipment or forklift traffic may indicate a potential for future worker injuries.
  • Talk to the workers where they work. Tap their knowledge. Make them comfortable talking with you. Assure them that you are interested in finding problems and fixing them, i.e., improving safety, not blaming anyone for your findings. Avoid yes/no questions. Encourage conversation.
  • Observe them as they work. For example, do they lift heavy objects? Do they stand/sit in awkward postures? Are they performing repetitive motions? If so, take notes and photos. This measure will require establishing a level of trust to ensure workers that your interest is improving safety, not recording faults. If their job involves handling chemicals or exposure to excessive noise and/or heat, a more detailed evaluation by a safety professional may be in order.
  • Find solutions on the spot. This demonstrates that making the workplace safer is not something that should be delayed if possible.
  • Follow up.  Failure to follow up will weaken the level of trust you worked hard to establish. It may also stifle worker participation and enthusiasm, which can be hard to regain. OSHA recommends that managers prepare a post-walkaround abatement plan spelling out how hazards will be addressed in a timely manner and identifying interim controls that will be used while more permanent measures are developed. Share the abatement plan with other managers, supervisors, and the workers themselves.

OSHA’s fact sheet, Safety Walk-Arounds for Managers is available here.

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