An increasing number of laws, regulations, and standards are being enacted to not only ensure better public and environmental health, but also enable government agencies to create public databases for greater transparency and “big data” research. These regulatory goals come with a cost to construction companies. Additional time and money is inevitably spent performing extra tasks, such as more complex inspections, increased training, and new logging and reporting procedures. Much of that time and money, however, is often unnecessarily spent managing the resulting paperwork—all in an effort to prove compliance.
AUTOMATE THE PROCESS
Companies seeking to reduce, and even recover, the time associated with regulatory compliance efforts will realize the greatest gains by automating their processes.
This means doing away with paper forms and checklists that must be physically annotated, copied, distributed, and later filed in a safe location. Paper-based methods are time-consuming and very susceptible to human error. Hard copies are often difficult to share with multiple team members in a timely manner and hard to access at a later date. There is also increased risk of losing important documentation as well as the evidentiary photos that go with them. All this equates to time lost to compliance.
When team members are equipped with cloud-based data collection software and mobile devices to conduct and record compliance activities, they are able to collect, store, and share information in real time and from any location. Real-time information sharing results in swift resolutions to issues found during inspections, meetings, etc. because responsible team members are notified earlier and can take action sooner.
Electronic forms and checklists customized with conditional logic minimize the potential for human error. They prompt users to enter specific information that corresponds directly to what has already been input—an impossibility with paper-based systems. Having immediate access to more complete data and supporting images allows managers to make better-informed decisions, and make them faster. Costly delays are eliminated.
ELECTRONIC REPORTING BECOMES MANDATORY
For some contractors, switching to automated data collection is no longer a choice. For instance, in late 2015, the EPA began requiring construction site operators to electronically submit their National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) stormwater permit documentation (e.g., application forms, termination forms, annual report, and all monitoring results). The NPDES stormwater program requires permits for discharges from construction activities that disturb one or more acres and discharges from smaller sites that are part of a larger common plan of development or sale.
In 2016, OSHA mandated that companies record and electronically submit workplace injuries and illnesses, effective August. What’s more, under OSHA’s recordkeeping rule, occupational illness and injury records must be submitted within 4 business hours (NOT days) when an authorized government representative requests them.
With more regulatory agencies requiring electronic reporting, using mobile data collection software becomes imperative. Companies using paper-based methods will end up spending additional time re-entering information into electronic-based systems. So, the question really comes down to which software solution will eliminate the paper shuffle and streamline the path to compliance. Below are a few tips to help in the decision-making process:
Invest in a mobile solution: Not all data collection solutions are made the same. In-house or on-premise software solutions are great for the office, but are often difficult to access remotely—just like a hard copy document. Mobile solutions supported by software-as-a-service (SaaS) delivery and related apps allow users to collect, then immediately store and retrieve information while in the field. Because SaaS is remotely hosted (aka cloud computing), all that’s needed is an internet connection and a laptop or mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet. Many newer SaaS mobile solutions even work in off-line mode when an internet connection is spotty or unavailable. The collected data automatically syncs to the cloud when a connection is restored. This is an important feature for industries with workers in remote locations.
Choose a flexible platform: Don’t invest in software that forces users to change their processes and nomenclature to adapt to the software’s interface. Instead, choose software that does the adapting. For example, ensure that checklists can be customized to include conditional logic and required fields based on specifications or regulatory requirements. This way, users are guided through tasks; steps are not skipped and required information does not go undocumented. If calculations are needed, make sure they can be included in the software. It is also important that reports can be printed or electronically submitted in formats required by regulatory agencies. It’s also important to evaluate the software features to ensure the company’s needs are met.
MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME
By automating compliance activities with mobile data collection solutions, companies can speed the processes by which compliance-related information is collected, filed, shared, and reported. Information syncs to the cloud and related information (including images) is stored together and available in real time, making it easy to access by all authorized users, from multiple owners to subcontractors to consultants. Perhaps most important, formatting and electronically submitting data to regulatory agencies becomes virtually effortless.
Furthermore, when team members no longer have to spend time filling out, distributing, filing, and retrieving paperwork, they have more time to focus on the actual job. For construction companies, this results in improved workplace safety, reduced risk, meeting more deadlines, and increasing overall profitability. ■
About the Author: Darrin Harris is the CEO of Kordata. With more than15 years of experience in building mobile solutions, Kordata was created to serve those businesses and enterprises that struggle to find a software solution that truly fits their company. The Kordata team is dedicated to ensuring their platform is the best solution for the organization’s most complex data collection needs. For more information, visit www.kordata.com.
Modern Contractor Solutions – August 2016
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