From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Study Confirms the Value of a Walkaround Safety Survey

A recent Danish study revealed that the risk findings of a walkthrough safety survey (called Safe Workplace) conducted at 15 construction worksites were predictive of pre-walk through injury.  The research, which covered two years and approximately 3.5 million work-hours, showed that worksites where risk findings were considered as medium or high had nearly twice the incidence of pre-walk through injury compared to low risk worksites.

After the medium/high risks identified by the walkthrough survey had been addressed, the incidence of injury at those construction sites reduced to levels slightly higher than worksites with low risk assessment – hence, acting on findings of walkthrough surveys produced a safer work environment.  

Researchers and management also wanted to determine if “shared” safety concerns (meaning worker/management issues such as access roads, cables and boards, guard rails and coverings) were corrected as fast as “individual” safety concerns (worker controlled conditions such as lighting, storage and workshops, ladders, cranes and lifting equipment, and PPE).  When medium/high risk “shared” safety concerns were identified, it was seen that the relative risk of injury remained the same before and after the walkthrough.  When medium/high risk “individual” safety concerns were identified, it was seen that the relative risk of injury dramatically reduced after the walkthrough.

The Bottom Line – How This Applies To Ergonomists
Risk identification walkthroughs are often considered an obligatory nuisance at the workplace.  However, this study clearly shows that they can pick up unsafe worksite conditions and, when corrected, can prevent future injury.  The ergonomist can financially justify his/her actions thorough dollars saved by the company or organization.  

The study also reveals that risk concerns which involve multiple sectors of the company (workers and management) require extra effort to satisfactorily address.  The ergonomist should realize that coordination and cooperation with multiple groups may be necessary to arrive at a good solution.

Research Method
Safe Workplace, a Danish observational workplace safety scoring system, was applied during walkarounds of a train rail construction project.  The Safe Workplace assessment method consisted of an evaluation of 12 safety indicators derived from physical safety standards and common construction safe/unsafe acts.  Topics addressed included protection against falling, lighting/electricity, scaffolding, ladders, general housekeeping, guard rails/coverings, and PPE.

The walkthrough was conducted by the head office safety coordinator along with the local worksite safety individuals.  If a safety indicator was satisfactorily met at the whole worksite, a low risk level was assigned along with a green safety descriptor.  If at least one observation identified a compliance violation in a safety indicator (e.g., scaffolding), the risk level of that indicator was labeled as medium or high (and given a descriptor of yellow or red, respectively).  A medium/yellow risk condition led to the writing of an improvement notice (work could continue but the safety violation should be corrected within a specified time frame – usually one day).  A high/red risk condition was interpreted as imminent danger and work should be stopped until the condition was corrected.

Shared (worker/management) safety categories were considered to be access roads, cables and boards, guard rails and coverings, scaffolding, and housekeeping.  Individual (worker) safety categories were identified as lighting, storage and workshops, ladders, cranes and lifting equipment, PPE, fire/safety equipment, and machines.

One hundred fifty-three walkthroughs were conductedin this study.

The Danish employer recorded injury related data immediately after an incident: injury date, personal information, location of the site, injury type, body part involved, and type of work.  The number of injuries recorded during this study was 153.

Pre-walkaround injury data was analyzed to determine the ability of a walkaround to identify risk level.  Post-walkaround injury data was analyzed to determine if intervening produced a safer work setting. Post-walkaround injury data was analyzed to determine if safety improved relative to the type of risk: shared versus individual.  

This study can be acquired at:

Article Title: Safety Walkarounds Predict Injury Risk and Reduce Injury Rates in the Construction Industry

Publication: American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 53:601-607, 2010

Authors: K L Mikkelsen, S Spangenberg, and P Kines

This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2010-06-07.