Safety Walkarounds Part 2: How to get started

Updated Feb 26, 2013

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In part 1 of my series on safety walkarounds, I explained the importance of work observations by managers (and others).  These work observations are NOT traditional low value inspections of work space, nor are they limited to observations of a predetermined set of “critical” behaviors.

Instead, walkarounds focus on the work and the associated hazards. Managers/observers then partner with the workers involved to identify opportunities to improve the safety of that work as well as the systems and controls that support it.

So, now that you’re convinced that walkarounds are important, let’s discuss how you do them.


Make Sure Walkarounds are Something You Really Want to Do: An effective walkaround program requires management time and commitment.

Manage the Program: When an organization decides that walkarounds are an important safety function, then they must ensure success by nurturing the program, holding managers accountable for performance, monitoring results, and continuously modifying the effort to ensure effectiveness and on-going improvement.

Training: Training can be formal classroom, mentored walkarounds with a recognized “expert,” or a combination of both. At some organizations I’ve worked with managers received four hours of classroom training and were then required to participate in two mentored walkarounds before going solo.

Pick Activities Worth Watching: Not all activities are of equal safety importance. Since management time is limited and highly valuable, it should focus on the most important (to safety) activities first. High risk work or operations with a history of accidents are good places to start.

Prepare Employees: Employees should know to expect their supervisors in the workplace and understand that an element of the walkaround program is the fault free observation of their work – for the good cause of enhanced safety.

Prepare Yourself: Know in general what work to expect and the associated hazards. If there is a procedure or JSA governing the work activity, or accident reports associated with past work, review them before going into the field.  Also, be sure you know the rules – especially the safety rules. A terrible message is sent to employees when supervisors break their own safety rules. Make sure you read and obey posted signs and warnings.

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Get Some Help:  It is often a good idea to take someone with you on a walkaround. DuPont requires that managers take a reporting manager along on walkarounds, but it is also acceptable to occasionally take along a safety engineer, fire protection specialist, or other personnel with specialized expertise. To ensure a fresh and objective perspective it is also a good practice to occasionally take a representative from another department with you.  Try to limit walkarounds to two (no more than three) people, however.

In the field  

This section contains some of the “how-to’s” normally covered in management walkaround training. These “how-to’s” are essential elements of conducting a successful walkaround.

Observations:  Every walkaround should start with an observation of work. This is essential and is what differentiates walkarounds from more typical compliance-based inspections. The work observed can be anything from computer use in an office space to hazardous process operations. This is the manager’s choice based on perceived risk or importance. Observations should generally last from 10 to 30 minutes and minimize work disruption as much as possible. Often workers will stop what they are doing when managers appear on the scene. If this happens, workers should be requested to return to work so the observation can continue. Workers should be expecting their managers via prior communications. There is always some skewing of work performance when managers are present, but experience shows that this distortion diminishes dramatically over time as workers come to expect management observations as a matter of course and view them positively.

Demos:  Occasionally managers arrive at a workplace only to find that the work has been completed or delayed. Although not as useful as actual work observations, a “demo” is often a good observation alternative in these cases. Demos are where managers ask the employees to show them the work steps without actually performing them. This is somewhat easier if the work is governed by a procedure. Managers can then ask questions like “How do you do this?” and “Can you show me…?” to obtain a better understanding of the work.

Talking to the Workers:  Work discussions should serve first to put employees at ease and then to mutually identify potential opportunities for improving the safety of the work.

The following are a few sample questions managers might ask during the walkarounds:

  1. What part of your job do you consider the most hazardous?
  2. What is the worst thing that could happen if something went wrong as a result of this work?
  3. Have you (or someone you know) ever experienced an injury, or near miss, performing this work?
  4. What, if anything, about this job needs additional safety attention?
  5. How do you resolve safety problems when they arise?
  6. Why are safety rules and/or procedures violated (if violations were observed)?
  7. Which rules or procedures do you find difficult (or hazardous) to use?
  8. What training (including safety training) have you received to perform your job?
  9. What changes would you implement to make this job safer if you had the authority to do so?

The preceding questions are merely suggestions. Managers need to remember, however, that a walkaround is not an inquisition and must be, except in the most extreme circumstances, fault free. Employees should not feel like they are on trial or in jeopardy for their jobs. Managers must make it a point to listen to their employees and ensure that the employees have ample opportunity to ask their own questions as well as make suggestions.

Keeping it Going. Like anything worth doing, walkarounds require management commitment and ongoing leadership to ensure long-term success. Good intentions are not enough. The author’s experience suggests a minimum set of management actions to ensure continuing effectiveness.

  • Require and Expect Full Participation.  Accountability is essential and requires clear responsibilities, metrics and routine follow-up.  Metrics should consider not just the number of walkarounds but their overall quality and effectiveness.
  • Use Walkarounds as an Integral Part of the Overall Safety Effort. Walkaround information is too valuable not to share routinely with employees, peers and the management team.  Not only does this sharing inform management of safety performance in the field, it provides an opportunity to identify and correct organization-wide issues. These group discussions are also an important accountability tool. No manager wants to look unprepared or ineffective to his or her peers – and certainly not to the manager he or she reports to.

Check back tomorrow for Part 3 which discusses implementation tips and challenges.


Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on on the Safety Cary blog and has been republished with permission. 

James Loud

James Loud E1361371750203Loud’s more than 40 years of safety experience includes work with the Tennessee Valley Authority and Los Alamos National Laboratory. He is a regular presenter at national and international safety conferences and the author of numerous papers and articles. Mr. Loud is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP), and a retired Certified Hazardous Materials Manager (CHMM). He holds a BBA from the University of Memphis, an MS in Environmental Science from the University of Oklahoma and an MPH in Occupational Health and Safety from the University of Tennessee.