A well-managed safety program is designed with the front line supervisors responsible for safety.  They coach and train on safe work practices and enforce safety rules. Safety assessments are a tool that can quantify the front line supervisor’s efforts.

When building a safety culture, there is a shift that happens in the management team.  A reactive culture relies on the Safety Manager to do everything. As you move to an independent culture, the front line supervisors take on more responsibility.

The question that comes up is “What does the Safety Manager Do?”

Their job is to coach the coaches, in this scenario, the Front Line Supervisors.  And how do you know if your coaching is effective? You do observations and look at the data; meaning do safety assessments.

What are Safety Assessments?

Safety Assessments are a proactive safety tool where a department or area is observed as a whole and data on compliance with safety policies is collected.

Basically, are they following the SOPs in the department?

These are different from observations that we talked about in our post about Effective Safety Observations.  Observations look at one specific employee, safety assessments look at the department as a whole.

I have created a Safety Assessment Template you can Download for FREE!

When doing a safety assessment you start with a list of SOPs you want to observe.  Try to keep it to 10-20 and all related to each other. For example – Lifting, LOTO, Forklift Operation, PPE, etc…

Next, you watch the department work.  When you see them doing one of the SOPs on your list you make a judgment of either 

  • Yes – they followed the SOP, or
  • No – they did not. 

I like to add in a marginal column that gives them partial credit or partial compliance.

A simple tally system can be used.  You never use the employee’s name, each tally mark represents one behavior.

See the post about Safety Blitz’s for more information.  A Safety Blitz has a group or team do safety assessments at the same time throughout the entire operation.

Safety Assessments Help You Make Data-Driven Decisions

What poor behavior is most prevalent in your workplace? What department should safety spend more time in? Which supervisors are struggling with building safety awareness?

Without data, you are just guessing the answers to these questions.

Safety assessments help give you this data.  They allow you to be laser-focused on specific problem areas.  With focus comes greater results.

In addition, focused safety efforts allow you to do more in less time.  Instead of re-training on your entire ergonomics program, you can focus on one or two behaviors that are causing your injuries.

Many times, it just takes small adjustments in behaviors to make big impacts on your injury numbers.

For example, I did a proper lifting assessment in a warehouse department and noticed that they were parking their forklifts too close to the racking.  This was giving them less than 24” of space to lift the product, turn, and put it on their pallet. They had no choice but to twist while lifting. By focusing our efforts on stopping the lift 36” from the racking, I saw a 20%+ reduction in back strains for the quarter.

Safety Assessments Reduce Pencil Whipping

If you have your front line supervisors conducting inspections or observations, there is always the chance they will get complacent in their evaluations and exaggerate the results a little bit.

This is human nature.  Instead of fighting it or punishing over it, use safety assessments to make your point and improve the supervisor’s results.

The safety manager can do assessments on the same areas that the supervisors are coaching and observing on.  When you compare the results of each, they should be similar.

If the comparison is off by a large amount it is telling you a few things.

  1. The employees behave differently when safety is around compared to when the supervisor is around, or
  2. One of the results is exaggerated and I seriously doubt it is the safety managers.

What Do You Do About Pencil Whipping?

When you have data to work off of, it’s really easy to back up the need to address the front line supervisor’s actions.

Most of the time a simple conversation that their results are nowhere close to your results can remedy the situation.  When they realize you are examining the data, they will be motivated to be more accurate.

It could also be a training issue.  When the results continue to be mismatched, the next step is to retrain the supervisor on how to promote and coach safety effectively.

As you are walking and working with them you can point out safety issues they missed that they could’ve coached on; or help them improve the coaching they’re doing.

If there continues to be a disconnect in the data, it is time to discuss the problem with their boss and HR.  It could be an issue where the supervisor is not supporting safety, but it could also be a leadership problem.

Supervisors that lack leadership skills can result in employees not listening to them.  So even though they are coaching on safety correctly, they aren’t getting the desired results.

When it gets to this point, you already have the data from your safety assessments and you made an effort to coach and train the supervisor.  This is when it’s time for their boss to step in.

Safety Assessments Get You Out On the Floor

As your safety culture is changing, there will be fewer and fewer reasons for you to be out in the work area.  Supervisors are doing their jobs, employees are working safely; it is easy to say I have stuff I need to do at my desk.

Putting safety assessments on your to-do list ensures that you’re regularly out there and part of the management team.  It makes you more accessible.

You will have to be more creative on what SOPs to observe as problem areas become harder to spot. 

What to Do With Safety Assessment Data

Every week you should be conducting multiple assessments over all of your departments.  Correlate the data and share it with the employees, supervisors and management team.

Simplify the results into graphs and post them in the break room for everyone to see.  You can even give “Grades” for each behavior. This makes it easy for everyone to quickly see what they need to do better on.

Always re-assess the problem areas after sharing the data.  See if any improvements have been made. Share the trending with your team and celebrate positive trends.  People will want to help get that trend line moving in the right direction.

Safety Assessments for Proactive Safety Incentive Programs

When you are conducting safety assessments on a regular basis, you may want to incentivize the departments.  This is a great tool to use in your incentive programs because it will not discourage injury reporting.


Between this post and the one on doing a Safety Blitz, we have thoroughly covered safety assessments.  In my opinion, they are one of the most important tasks Safety Managers should be doing, next to inspections.


I would love to know what you think about safety assessments.  Do you use them? Do you think they wouldn’t work at your company? How do you share the information?

Leave a comment below and let’s chat!

Hi, I'm Brye (rhymes with sky)!  I am a self-proclaimed safety geek with two decades of general industry safety experience.  Specializing in bringing safety programs to a world-class level and building a safety culture, I have trained and coached many safety managers, just like you, on how to effectively manage workplace safety in the real world.   I would love to help you too.

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