An Inspector Gadget

A small fire has broken out on the warehouse floor, and the scene is on the verge of total chaos. A few employees are searching desperately for the nearby fire extinguisher, while others run in fear of the spreading flames. Finally, someone finds an extinguisher behind a stack of boxes and returns to the scene, only to remove the pin and find the extinguisher has no pressure. Meanwhile, the fire has grown and gained momentum. The facility is evacuated. As they wait for fire crews, both employees and management can only watch as the building goes up in smoke. During the ensuing investigation, the company discovers that equipment in the back portion of the warehouse was overlooked in the last inspection.

The Maintenance Problem
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), 93 percent of all fire-related deaths and 95 percent of all direct property damages occur once a fire has progressed beyond the early stages. Thus, fire protection equipment becomes invaluable at any location. But as the above story illustrates, the best equipment in the world is useless if it is hidden or inoperable.

The NFPA 1 Fire Prevention Code and NFPA 10 Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers require that portable fire extinguishers be placed every 75 feet in a commercial structure. In addition, OSHA requires employers to ensure all fire and safety equipment is properly maintained and inspected. But with some of today's commercial facilities encompassing thousands of square feet, keeping up with hundreds of fire extinguishers can be quite a challenge--of course, that's in addition to the maintenance and inspection of other equipment, including fire hoses, ladders, sprinkler systems, and emergency exits.

Where do you start? How do you know you haven't missed something?

A Hand-Held Solution
The answer, or at least part of it, already may be in the palm of your hand. Combining software with hand-held computing, TISCOR's new FireProof XT was designed to simplify fire and safety equipment inspections. Using a barcode scanning system, the application essentially acts as an inspector's thumbprint, documenting that he/she was observing equipment at a specific location, time, and day.

"The use of barcodes provides indisputable proof that an inspector was present at a site to check equipment, rather than taking a break in the lunchroom," explained Matt Schwuchow, director of corporate and channel sales for TISCOR.

To start using the application, TISCOR will help you set up on a PC the users, types of equipment, frequency of inspections, and the tasks to be completed at each inspection. This information is then sent to a hand-held computer with a built-in barcode scanner, providing an inspector a list of equipment due for inspection and the associated tasks required during his inspection route. The application works only with Symbol's SPT 1800 and PDT 8100 (intrinsically safe) hand-held devices, but it still allows you to choose either a Palm or CE operating system.

As the inspector goes on his route, he checks off tasks such as "check pin" or "verify heft weight" on the hand-held computer. When the inspection is complete, the collected data are uploaded into a database from which managers can run reports with the push of a button.

A Time and Money Saver
Because facility managers must provide documentation to fire marshals, insurance representatives, and JCAHO inspectors and meet NFPA guidelines, the system allows users to run history reports on specific items by simply entering an equipment number. "As you can imagine, the agencies are used to people looking for paper records and often taking a lot of time to come up with proof of inspections," said Schwuchow. With the application's history reports, "the facility in question has more than enough documentation to provide the agencies."

In addition to aiding in documentation, the software can help a user save money by allowing departments to determine which items are under warranty. This feature also lets you run reports for inspection types that might be of cost to the department. For example, Schwuchow explained that the hydro inspection required every five years on most extinguishers basically requires a "rebuilding" of the unit, which will have an associated cost. With the software, "the department can run a report and know exactly how many rebuilds are due in a given month or year, and help it budget accordingly so it is not hit with expenses that were not accounted for," he said.

While it designed to simplify the inspection process, FireProof XT's features could ultimately prevent property damage and save lives--two good reasons for you to take a closer look at your own equipment inspection process and put out any fires you might find.

This article appeared in the February 2004 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

Operating Requirements:

1. Stand-alone computer/network workstation

  • Pentium 500 MHz processor or greater
  • 128 MB RAM
  • 16 MB video card
  • Windows 9x, Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000, or XP Workstation
  • 200 MB free space on hard disk

2. Network server

  • Pentium 500 MHz processor or greater
  • 256 MB RAM or greater
  • Windows NT Server 4.X, Windows XP Server, or Novell NetWare 4.X
  • 200 MB free space on hard disk

3. Recommended server requirements

  • 1.2 GHz processor or greater
  • 512 MB RAM
  • 500 MB free space on hard disk

This article originally appeared in the February 2004 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Valerie Weadock is a former associate editor of Occuaptional Health & Safety

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