Automating safety inspections

OVER the past few years, automation has proven to be an important tool in the management of safety inspections as it enables effective identification of major OH&S risks.

OVER the past few years, automation has proven to be an important tool in the management of safety inspections as it enables effective identification of major OH&S risks.

In recent years, the role of handheld devices and PDAs (Personal Digital Assistant) has gradually increased from ‘toys’ used by early adopters, to day-to-day tools deployed by organisations that want to improve their staffs’ productivity and minimise unnecessary administrative tasks.

PDAs are also increasing being used for safety inspections as handheld devices make current, past, and future information accessible and easy to use.

Handheld applications specifically designed for safety inspections should deliver the following functionalities:

• List all information required by inspectors to perform their tasks, including task list, activities, instructions, etc

• Provide easy to use navigation, search capabilities and quick access to information

• Allow inspectors to enter as much information as needed

• Automatically track labour and apply it to timesheets (if applicable)

• Enable inspectors to record recommendations

• Produce reports or invoices as required using portable printers

Handheld software should also be able to run on multiple hardware platforms, providing flexibility and utilization of future technology without avoidable and costly software upgrades.

Choosing the right PDA solution

By following three simple steps, described below, inspectors can accelerate the selection process and ensure that their selection would fit their needs:

1. First, determine what you want the solution to do for you. Make sure you understand your current processes and information flow.

Try to answer the following questions:

• List things that work well within your current process and things that can improve. Focus on the process and NOT on software or computers

• Prioritise potential improvement areas

• Describe a short scenario where improvements can achieve your objectives

For example, minimise unnecessary administrative tasks such as remembering and rescheduling safety inspections, or eliminating unnecessary data entry.

At this point, you have gathered your requirements. Now try to answer the following:

• Who will use the system? How computer proficient are the users? (Remember to separate field staff requirements from managers and supervisors)

• What are your procedures for paperwork flow? Will the software improve this flow or make it worse?

2. Next, evaluate features offered by different solution providers and compare them to your needs.

Create a list of desired features so you can compare ‘apples-to apples’ without getting confused (or blindsided) by the different vendor presentations.

When reviewing brochures offered by vendors or when speaking with sales people, it is sometimes difficult to clearly identify the differences between the various different packages.

However, certain packages offer significantly better value than their competitors, both in terms of functionalities, ease of use, and price.

The differences between the packages can be highlighted in the following areas:

• How comprehensive is their solution and their PDA software? Is it easy-to-learn and easy-to-use?

• How easily does the PDA integrate with the desktop/server component?

• Does the package enable efficient planning of safety inspection activities by using schedulers and alerts, and by automating repetitive tasks?

• Is the solution easy to use? Does it offer different levels to different users related to their responsibilities?

• Does the solution minimise unnecessary administrative tasks such as reminders and repetitive activities?

For example, alerts, escalation procedures, and other exceptions should be automated and should alert users proactively.

Regular inspection due dates should be automatically calculated based on schedules, etc.

• Does it include management functions, reports, queries and exceptions? Can the solution help planning and can it highlight problem areas?

3. Finally, determine the best value and fit – include in your evaluation important factors such as the ability to tailor a solution to your needs and the cost of the solution.

Once you have created your short list of potential packages, look at the following factors to choose ‘the right solution for you’:

• Is the provider willing to tailor the solution to your needs if required?

• Can you customise settings, such as field aliases and screens available to each user?

• Will you be able to expand the use of the package without ‘hidden’ module charges, costs and complexities?

• Does the package include future software releases, so when new and improved features are added you will be receiving these upgrades without excessive additional charges?

• And finally — is the solution within your budget?

The evaluation process described above should include cost estimates for such solutions. However, you may also wish to evaluate the cost in terms of ROI. Try to calculate your savings, in terms of minimising data entry efforts, speeding up information flow and information accuracy, easy access to customer queries and audits, shortening the timeframe it takes to issue an invoice (if relevant), etc.

Once you have estimated your savings (tangible and intangible benefits), you can evaluate the amount of money you are willing to spend on such system. ROI should be between 6 and 12 months.

Maintaining this focused approach is the best way to select a safety inspection package that is right for your needs. By taking the time to systematically research and evaluate your options, you avoid regretting hasty decisions later.

*Naaman Shibi is has over 18 years of experience in the Information Technology industry, with focus on automating inspection and service activities for a variety of organisations.

For more information contact Techs4Biz; phone 03 8862 6485 or visit the website at:

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