Probably not. The problems with using a paper-based system to collect safety data are many and far-reaching, and companies that rely on paper checklists to demonstrate OSHA compliance risk running into regulatory trouble.
The main problem with paper forms is there’s nothing to stop users from filling them out inconsistently, incorrectly, or simply skipping fields altogether, greatly undermining data reliability and reducing visibility into potential safety hazards. In addition, paper checklists are difficult to update quickly when work conditions change, and they cannot accommodate multimedia assets like critical maps or visuals that enhance inspection accuracy. Paper checklists also have a versioning problem if they are not strictly managed, resulting in multiple copies of checklists offering different reporting criteria of the same inspection. And even if you’ve made the jump to spreadsheets, you’re still not off the hook: spreadsheets aren’t much better as they too have a host of collection and reliability problems.
Outmoded collection methods, paper or spreadsheet, produce inconsistent and unreliable data, resulting in a worst-case scenario when you need to prove the rigor of your safety programs to OSHA. Even worse, companies that use paper checklists are risking more than just skewed data – they’re risking fines, hits to their bottom line, a depreciated brand and, most importantly, their workers’ safety.
There is, however, a wide range of digital technologies specifically designed to tackle and overcome the challenges of an increasingly complex, competitive, and regulated industry. As we’ll see, digitization places better safety data at your fingertips so that your compliance is never in doubt.
Digitization not only solves the many problems with paper while producing more consistent and reliable safety data, it also helps companies to work smarter and more efficiently to streamline OSHA compliance procedures. The benefits of digitization include:
Ability to customize. OSHA writes its guidelines very broadly, and employees may have difficulty applying the guidelines to your day-to-day operations. Digital platforms let you create safety and inspection checklists specifically tailored to your unique work environment, so inspections are easy for anyone to perform and always collect the data you need.
Real-time updates and adaptability. Easy to modify on the fly, digital checklists adapt to changing scenarios, equipment, personnel, worksites, and even new OSHA guidelines. And with near-real-time updates and shared access across distributed teams, everyone knows what data needs to be collected and how.
Ease of versioning. Digitization solves all of your versioning issues. When your whole team works from the same cloud-based checklist, there is only one record of choice in circulation, updated and shared in near-real time.
Built-in training and onboarding. Digital apps enhance training by providing inexperienced workers with tightly organized sets of descriptions and reference materials, including visuals, at the point of use. Safety managers can also update apps to reflect changes in OSHA regulations so that every worker is up to speed on best practices.
Integration of multimedia. Digital checklists can incorporate a variety of visual media, such as photos or videos, to be shared with the managing supervisor who is not on site, allowing for the oversight of more people at more locations with precision and efficiency. In addition, the collected visual media then becomes part of the documentary record of the inspection.
Location awareness. Enrich your safety data with crucial location-aware information, including maps, seamlessly-integrated GIS, and geotagged records.
Superior ease-of-use. By building digital checklists without the need for code, safety managers can quickly tailor them to specific or changing conditions. And for employees, expandable dropdown menus and easy-to-follow decision trees clarify and guide safety inspections so that reliable data is consistently collected.
Data-driven insights. Accurate, timely data widens your visibility to see emergent patterns, which helps to adjust workflows to be OSHA-compliant and prevent future safety incidents. And if incidents should occur, root causes can be quickly identified and remediated.
Promotion of a safety culture. If your entire workforce operates from the same digital checklists and always knows how to perform their work safely, everyone’s job becomes easier and safer. Your clear commitment to worker safety lays the groundwork for a robust, company-wide safety culture that’s always prepared for OSHA scrutiny.
Streamlined operations. Custom digital checklists can detail exact steps and hide extraneous fields to streamline inspections. Instant access and sharing also means that no time is wasted on administrative busywork, whether conducting inspections, implementing updates, or producing reports for stakeholders.
Elimination of guesswork and distractions. Digital checklists reduce a worker’s cognitive load to eliminate uncertainty, allowing for focus on safely performing the task at hand. With no frustrating distractions (e.g., lost paper checklists, unclear directions, tracking down other information), workers can concentrate their effort on safely performing smart, thorough inspections.
The sum efficacy of your safety program – and how you prove its rigor – results from reliable safety data flowing through every touchpoint of your workflow. This data improves training and enhances work quality, resulting in the reduction of hazardous incidents and easier inspections, while consistently demonstrating OSHA compliance.
Your company’s safety program is too important to depend upon crumpled pieces of paper or clunky spreadsheets. Digitization gives companies the adaptability and rigor to be responsive to OSHA and foster a culture of safety for an ROI that can be measured in time, money, and worker safety.