Automating Safety Inspections
- By Pete Tormey
- May 01, 2004
AFFORDABLE Palm computers and software have given rise to a new family of
tools for reducing paperwork and automating safety and other routine
inspections. As with most new tools, the major advantage is reducing labor costs
and saving administrative time, however, automating your inspection process can
mean more than simply saving money. Careful planning during the automation
process can transform routine inspections into an enhanced compliance
The simplest automated inspection tool can be just a personal digital
assistant (PDA) connected to a Microsoft Access database. More advanced systems
use wireless technology to access historical inspection results or follow up
items for future inspections. Complex inspection systems coordinate inspectors
across continents, bringing the inspection results to a central place for
PDAs eliminate the need for manual data entry. Interactive software design
guides the inspector based upon answers to previous questions, ensuring better
information is collected. This gives safety officers new and affordable ways to
use the inspection information. For example, more details about recurring
problems can be collected for later analysis or to ensure corrective actions are
A central repository of historical data facilitates compliance audits, as
well. Auditors easily can see the performance of your compliance operations.
Also, historical trends can show that you?re committed to a zero violation
environment. Before starting your inspection automation upgrade, a few steps can
help simplify the process.
Standardize Your Equipment
PDAs are the main input tools for safety
inspections. These are getting more powerful and have great features, such as
e-mail and scheduling. If you move your inspectors over to PDAs, standardize the
software and hardware for your whole team. Like the Mac versus PC debate, PDAs
come in two flavors. The most common is the Palm operating system, but recently
the Microsoft operating system has seen increasing sales. Both offer full-color
screens and wireless connectivity.
Involve Your IT Group Early
Probably you will need some help from
your IT group. Depending on how many inspectors you have and where they are
located, the IT group might need to be only minimally involved. Most IT groups
are overworked these days, and a new product may trigger resentment. If you
outsource your inspection automation, have the vendor contact IT as soon as
possible. They can help to minimize fears the IT group has about the scope and
length of the project. Early buy-in from IT will ease the process and ensure
your inspection goals are met.
Make It Easy on Your Inspectors
If the new inspection process is more
difficult than the older paper-based one, your project will fail. Design for
ease-of-use at every stage. For example, reduce the need for data entry using
handwriting recognition (commonly called graffiti). Use pull-down menus wherever
possible so the inspector can select what he wants to say and not have to try to
write it in graffiti.
Good screen layout can minimize data entry errors. Use care when deciding
what field data is required. In the real world, there are always situations
where the inspector cannot get the required information. Inspection software
must be forgiving in these situations.
Review Your Clerical Operations
Your clerical staff probably will be
the primary user of the reporting side of the inspection automation software.
Here you will see the most noticeable office efficiency improvements. As you
implement your new system, analyze the steps the administrative staff now goes
through to meet your requirements.
Are they all necessary? Often the reason clerical staff does things is
because they've always been done that way. With automated inspections, data is
stored in a database and can be viewed quickly by whoever needs it. If possible,
eliminate your paper reports by having the results posted to an in-house Web
site. This way all the users can access the information, but your clerical staff
doesn't have to send it out individually. Software also can automatically e-mail
the reports to the key players in your organization, saving clerical
Get the Most from Your New Data
With inspection automation there may
be new ways you can slice and dice your data. For example, you can look for
trends in the data indicating future problem areas. You also can display the
data in a manner that promotes compliance. A graph showing departmental
compliance might encourage department heads to pay more attention to their
compliance activities. A little friendly rivalry between departments can result
in better overall compliance for your organization.
Toot Your Own Horn a Little
Inspections usually are not simply
reporting functions, but are training functions, as well. Make sure your new
software allows for tracking the training and corrective action operations of
your inspectors. If your team is fixing problems in the field while they perform
the inspection, make sure this is noted on the PDA. You can use these data to
show the inspection process itself is integral to your overall compliance
operations. Instead of seeing an inspection as a nuisance, your departments will
see your inspection as helping them stay in compliance.
If you follow the steps above, your inspection automation process will go
smoother and you should see a quicker return on your investment.
This article appears in the May 2004 issue of Occupational Health &
This article originally appeared in the May 2004 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.