When you get a call saying that the Inspector is at reception, how do you react? Annoyance, resignation or downright panic? There is another option – you can take a deep breath and look at this visit as an opportunity to improve your health and safety program. Here are some tips on how to benefit, rather than just endure, a visit from an Inspector.
Be Prepared. The Inspector will be looking for cues that an effective program is in place. Keep the health and safety notice board, first aid kits and MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) binders up to date and visible. Have key health and safety documentation readily available at all times, including:
- Health & Safety Policy Manual, Handbook etc.
- Joint Health & Safety Committee (JHSC) information (as required) such as the Terms of Reference, Members List, Meeting Schedule, Meeting Minutes and Workplace Inspection
- Injury/Incident Statistics
Be Welcoming. Make sure that staff members at company entrances know who to contact when an Inspector arrives. They should be aware of the broad powers of the Inspector and that Inspectors generally do not make appointments. All Health & Safety Committee members should know that they may be called on to accompany an Inspector.
Be Co-operative. Make a few phone calls to clear your calendar for the next few hours. Ask the Inspector if he/she would like a JHSC member to join in. Provide information that is requested and answer questions truthfully.
Here’s an example of a Ministry of Labour visit that I experienced and what I learned from it. The day before our annual Wellness Fair, our receptionist called to let me know that our Ministry of Labour Inspector, a new one, had arrived. My already “compact” office was stuffed with draw prizes, including gift baskets and a large purple exercise ball, which I hastily moved to my manager’s office. I sent out a quick email to alert several managers and supervisors and then I went out to meet him. I offered to call a Certified Worker JHSC member and gave the inspector a copy of our Health & Safety Handbook to look at.
After the worker arrived, the Inspector explained that due to several injuries in the past few years, we had been placed on a priority list. He asked questions about our program and the JHSC and I showed him the documentation he requested.
Next we toured the building and I introduced him to the JHSC members in each department. I was very proud of how knowledgeable and articulate they were in describing the safety precautions in their areas. This is so important – policies and procedures need to be integrated into the work, not a well-kept company secret. A set of binders on a shelf may look impressive, but the real health and safety program is what people do every day.
We went to a shop that has a mezzanine above it that is used for storage. It was an area that hadn’t been given much thought. The Inspector noticed that the railing had no mid-rail so we were given an order to add one. This was a legitimate request and it was helpful to have this hazard pointed out. As arrangements were made to add the mid-rail, we learned that the railings were removed from time to time. Some finished pieces were too large to be taken out through the shop doors, so the pieces were lifted up to the mezzanine where they could be taken out larger doors. This meant that fall protection was needed whenever the railing was removed so a horizontal lifeline was installed. As a result of our Ministry of Labour order, precautionary measures were taken before an injury could occur.
You may never look forward to an Inspector’s visit, but if it cannot be avoided, you can benefit from having a fresh eye look at your facilities and documentation. Listen, learn and use the visit as a wake-up call to push improvements forward.