Health and safety hazards for site inspectors

Aim of this document

This document identifies hazards that authorised officers need to be aware of and avoid when they are doing workplace inspections.

General sites

When authorised officers attend sites they should be aware that hazards may be present. It is their duty to establish the risks as far as practicable beforehand.

Types of hazards

The types of hazards present are determined by the nature of the site and the work being performed. In general they include:

  • chemical exposure
  • fire and explosion
  • lack of oxygen
  • ionizing radiation
  • biological hazards
  • safety hazards
  • electrical hazards
  • heat stress
  • cold exposure
  • noise.

Planning to enter the premises

Adequate planning is the most critical element in avoiding danger.

Before any inspection the officer should look through any files or documentation that relates to the premises.

The officer should contact the occupier of the site to find out any local OH&S requirements (for example, hard hats, hearing protection and safety footwear). The officer should carry these items in the car at all times and wear them if necessary.

Officers are expected to comply with all the safety requirements established by the site occupier or manager. An officer should not enter an operating premises on which hazards exist without being accompanied by a representative of the occupier.

Officers should be aware that under the Occupational Health and Safety Act the occupier of the site can require anyone intending to enter the site to comply with the OH&S requirements relevant to the site. This may include induction training, or the use of appropriate protection equipment.

Other sources of information about a site are:

  • company records or reports on the history of the site
  • in­house experts
  • other Government department or local council records
  • industry association records
  • Hazmat data/safety sheets
  • consultants.

Normally the site occupier, owner or company representative should accompany the authorised officer at all times during the inspection. In cases where this is not possible the inspecting officer must take extra care.

If no written or verbal information about the site is available, the inspecting officer should make observations about any potential hazards that may exist. Before entering the site it is wise to do a perimeter inspection to establish any risks.

Some specific hazards

The following is a list of possible hazards and hazard indicators that inspectors may encounter and should consider:

  • aggressive people (get help from the local police)
  • snakes
  • guard dogs
  • electric fences
  • water hazards (such as ponds and dams)
  • uneven ground
  • soft, slippery or unstable ground
  • no warning signs, placards or tags on fences, buildings, vehicles, containers, tanks, baths or machines
  • obstacles to entry or exit points
  • site structures in poor condition
  • unstable stacked material
  • dust or spray in the air
  • unusual or particularly unpleasant odours
  • pools of liquid on the ground
  • unusual conditions such as discoloured liquids, vapour clouds, oil slicks, or other suspicious substances on the ground or in any watercourse at the premises
  • gas generation or effervescence from pipes, containers or the ground
  • underground fuel tanks not in use
  • common hazards such as asbestos or pesticides
  • inappropriate climbing structures (including unlashed ladders and fixed ladders without fall prevention cages)
  • steam outlets from machinery
  • leaking, damaged or bulging drums
  • overhead hazards such as operating cranes, gantries, unstable constructions or building material
  • biological hazard indicators such as dead vegetation or animals, or ground that appears sterile
  • signs of explosive atmospheres (such as dust or hydrocarbon type odours)
  • flash flood hazards (such as creek beds and stormwater pipes)
  • sharp objects
  • signs of noise distracting people, interfering with their ability to communicate warnings, or having the potential to cause permanent hearing loss.

Under no circumstances should inspectors enter stormwater pipes, sewers or other confined spaces unless they have completed confined space training in accordance with OH&S Regulation 2001. Officers who have completed the training should enter confined spaces only in accordance with the correct procedures.

After doing the perimeter inspection the officer should enter the premises only if there are no apparent risks to health and safety. If the officer has any doubts about whether it is safe to enter, then the rule of thumb is to err on the side of caution: do not enter.

Under Section 8 of the OH&S Act 2000 the employing authority has a legislative requirement to provide a safe place of work for its staff. Therefore officers are not expected to enter any site, or require other officers to do so, if they believe it is unsafe.

Sites that may be contaminated

If there is any suspicion that a site may be contaminated then inspecting officers should take extra precautions. Generally speaking, contaminated sites that have not been disturbed do not pose an immediate health risk.

On the other hand, if a contaminated site has been recently disturbed (for example, if a leaking petroleum product tank has been, or is being, removed), inspecting officers should not enter the area unless they are fully familiar with contaminated site OH&S procedures and are wearing the appropriate protective equipment. Petrol vapours can be explosive and toxic.

Contaminated sites may contain derelict structures and equipment in poor condition, such as:

  • uncovered pits
  • corroded ladders
  • walkways or pit covers in disrepair
  • unstable structures or equipment.

Reporting dangerous occurences or exposure to hazardous materials

Your employer should immediately be notified of any incident in which you believe you may have been exposed to hazardous materials, including chemicals, gases, vapours, dusts or liquids. Your employer should also be notified of any exposure to biological hazards, such as insect bites or stings, or to blood borne hazards found in materials such as pathology wastes.

It is important to report all incidents promptly (usually by telephone) to facilitate any medical intervention needed. In addition, the details of the exposure event should be recorded on your organisation's accident/incident report form.

Employers must notify SafeWork NSW (formerly WorkCover) immediately of any dangerous occurance, for example, any occurance involving immient risk of death or serious injury to any person or property.


Authorised officers must be wary of a number of hazards when entering sites. They should gather as much information as possible before entering the premises, do a thorough perimeter inspection, and not enter the premises if there is any doubt about safety.

Further information

For further information contact the OH&S officer of your organisation or your local office of the SafeWork NSW (formerly WorkCover).

Further reading

In this manual:

Safety for Inspecting Spray Painting Premises & Investigating Odour Complaints


Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000

Occupational Health and Safety Regulation 2001

Mitchell, M. 1992, The OH&S Inspection Handbook, FSIA, Maitech Marketing Pty Ltd.

Standards Australia 2004, Australian Standard 4360-2004 Risk Management.

Site inspection hazard checklist

This checklist has been devised to help officers conduct an initial hazard identification and perimeter inspection.

Known history of site


Contact person:


Site name:






Site use:

(For industrial sites)




light manufacturing


food processing




chemical production






(For rural sites)










Personal protective equipment


safety helmet


hearing protection


eye protection


protective clothing


protective footwear


respiratory protection




Training for site-specific hazards:

Authorised officers to arrange safety induction training with occupier of site before any work is done.


Hazards to look for on perimeter inspection

Present (yes/no)






Water hazards (ponds, dams pools of liquid on the ground)


Flash flood hazards (creek beds/stormwater pipes)



Hazardous means of access and egress


Platforms/stairs/walkways unstable and poorly maintained


Obstacles without guards or barriers


No warning signs, tags or placards visible on fences, buildings, vehicles, containers, tanks, baths or machines


Biological hazards:

Snakes, guard dogs


Evidence of dead fish/vegetation/animals/algae


Aggressive or violent people (Is police help needed?)


Hazardous substances:

Dust, spray or vapour evident in ambient air


Unusual or unpleasant odours


Presence of gas generation or effervescence from pipes/containers or ground surface


Pesticides, asbestos


Leaking, damaged or bulging drums


Discoloured liquids, vapour clouds, oil slicks or other unknown substances on the ground or in any nearby watercourse


Indications of explosive atmosphere: dust or hydrocarbon type odours (e.g. 'rotten egg gas')



Use of heavy plant and equipment, such as earth moving machinery, forklifts and trucks


Overhead gantries, cranes and hoists


Steam outlets/hot pipes


Air/water/steam hoses


Electrical cables/overhead/ ground



Stable storage of materials (e.g. pallets/timber/bricks)


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