Over the past 5-10 years, the role of handheld devices, smart phones, PDAs (Personal Digital Assistant) and tablets has gradually increased from ‘toys’ used by early adopters, to day-to-day tools.
The explosive adoption of smart phones and tablets has changed the marketplace with an estimated over 25 million weekly activation’s worldwide of Mobile devices at the start of 2013.
There are few mobile device applications that can be used effectively to automate safety inspections, with a view to reduce the dependency of paper in the field, thereby empowering the safety inspector to dramatically improve communication between the field and the office much quicker.
Some of the common and useful applications that are already in use by safety personnel include:
Safety Inspections: The demand for safety inspection software running on mobile devices has increased due to the low cost and availability of mobile devices. Since the majority of safety inspectors currently carry phones, using the safety inspection App for data collection does not require additional capital expenditure.
Take, for example, Scaffolding Inspections; it is estimated that around 60% of the construction industry work on scaffolds. Monthly scaffold safety inspections are mandatory in many countries and performing the inspection by following a standard checklist on a mobile device is a very intuitive task.
Pre-Start Checks: All operators of heavy vehicles, cranes and forklifts are require to perform Pre-Start checks and report in real time on any critical deficiency. Mobile devices should provide information that already exists on paper forms or on the office computer desktop, whilst also improving one’s ability to access and utilise collected data. For example, as soon as a user completes a Pre-Start check on a mobile device, the information can be sent to the office, allowing management to monitor these inspections results, and act accordingly in a timely manner.
Preventative Maintenance: Service providers can now use mobile devices in the field to read instructions, complete inspections and record findings such as defects, recommendations, parts, labour etc. Data recorded on the device can be transmitted to the office in real time.
When using a robust implementation of mobile device applications, the process of collecting information in the field is easy, efficient, and captures all the required information. Further key points of relevance:
a. The Application must be easy to use. Since it is used in the field by maintenance personnel, operators, engineers and inspectors, they must be able to quickly ‘master’ the App, learn how to navigate to their desired screen/function, and adopt the App as an ‘extension’ of their business tools/gadgets.
b. ‘Offline Mode’ field applications, in which the user can use their App without being dependent on internet connectivity, are crucial in environments where mobile/wireless internet connectivity is limited or unavailable. The App therefore replaces paper forms with a significantly better tool – but without the need for continuous connectivity and increased costs. An ‘Offline Mode’ App works by allowing the user to send and receive all the required information and pictures wirelessly at any time, but once data is sent or received, users can record all required information directly onto their device while it is ‘Offline’. Similar to an email client (but more sophisticated and specifically designed for inspection, maintenance or data collection), users can control when and how data is sent back to the server. This functionality completely eliminates dependency on connectivity in remote locations and reducing costs since data can also be transmitted using Wi-Fi.
c. Picture-taking and automatic integration of images with inspection data is also essential. A picture truly does tell 1000 words and so it is only logical that inspectors must be able to take images,
draw on and annotate these pictures as required, and assign the picture to the appropriate line item or asset on their inspections with minimal number of ‘clicks’.
d. Simplifying data collection by standardising functions and drop-down lists is essential. The user must be able to select values from as many drop-down lists as possible, and therefore minimise data entry.
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. Based on current trends and the fact that smart phone and tablets are becoming somewhat of a necessity, it is safe to assume such devices will gradually earn market share within the safety industry marketplace.