The Seagull Approach? … When it comes to safety inspections, don’t do the ‘swoop and poop’

  • Published
  • By Kyle Baum
  • Air Education and Training Command Safety Directorate

I recently attended a fall protection training course. Most of the people in the course were from the oil and gas industry (I was the only one affiliated with the military). Each safety professional had a different approach on how they managed their respective safety programs, but all seemed effective. 

During the training, a discussion began about how we each conducted inspections. Some shared how they would ask supervisors to accompany them on the inspection so they could train the supervisors how to correct identified deficiencies. Some discussed how they would conduct the inspection and provide an informal out-brief prior to leaving the inspected area. Some safety professionals would be on the job site from the beginning to the end to ensure compliance, while others would stop in periodically. One thing we all seemed to have in common was if a deficiency was identified that would cause immediate danger to personnel, they would shut down the operation … knock it off, if you will.

The discussion then turned from how the inspections were conducted to the behavior of the inspector (safety professional). During that discussion, one of my fellow students prescribed a rather humorous approach. He called it the “seagulling approach.” He said, “Do you act like a seagull when inspecting? Do you swoop in, poop on them and then leave?” In other words, does the inspector conduct the inspection, identify only non-compliance and never identify the good things people are doing? If so, what type of “buy-in” to safety did that have with the employees?

As you know, safety inspections are required by 29 Code of Federal Regulations Part 1960 and Department of Defense Instruction 6055.01. We conduct these inspections to assure compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements and help employers and workers reduce on-the-job hazards and prevent injuries, illnesses and deaths in the workplace. Most personnel try to accomplish their jobs in the safest possible manner and, in many instances, exceed requirements. 

The Inspector General has a process during Unit Effectiveness Inspections that identifies exceptional performers. Even though we do not necessarily need to adopt that same process, we should still identify those areas in which personnel, or organizations, are exceeding requirements. 

The purpose of inspections is to ensure compliance with established guidance. It is easy to run a checklist, identify deficiencies and move on. However, taking a few extra minutes to capture areas in which organizations are exceeding requirements can aid in developing a safety culture. 

Capture those areas in which organizations need to improve to ensure the safety and well-being of their personnel, but also capture those areas in which they are achieving notable results.