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Handheld devices for inspections of machinery safety available from Techs4Biz

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In the past, many CMMS solutions offered ‘paper-based’ software, which produced paper work orders to perform field inspection. Once paper forms were returned to the office, they would be ‘manually’ entered to the CMMS. The same concept applied to web-based CMMS solutions, which required paper work orders and computers to enter the data back onto the system.

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 organizations that want to improve their staff’s productivity and minimize unnecessary administrative tasks.

The safeguarding of machinery is an imperative activity to perform whether it is the installation of new safeguards or the inspection of current safeguards in place to comply with AS 4024.

Employee safety is critical to the viability of any company’s future, minimising the risks of injuries and death through the safeguarding of hazardous machinery can be a complex and arduous task when tackling it using a paper based system or no system at all.

PDA (handheld device) can automate your machine safety inspections and replace paper work orders as part of CMMS:

Most handheld devices operate on the Microsoft Pocket PC operating system, and can easily handle safety inspections as part of the CMMS.

Handheld devices should provide information that already exists on paper forms or on the desktop and at the same time improve one’s ability to access and utilize the data. For example, if a user fills out a routine inspection report ensuring your emergency stop buttons comply with the Australian Standard 4024, the handheld device should fulfil the same function. A handheld user can pick from a list of possible choices and/or write or type in information, according to the organization’s requirements and preferences. The Handheld should easily incorporate the option to have a score and a weight for example when a regular inspection practice requires a risk assessment based on a weight and a score the handheld should supply this feature. The data collected will aid the risk assessment and decision making for example, producing risk matrix reports.

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

  • List all information required by inspectors to perform their safety Inspection tasks, including task list, activities, instructions, etc.
  • Provide easy to use navigation, search capabilities and quick access to information.
  • Allow safety inspectors to enter as much information as needed.
  • Automatically track labour and apply it to timesheets (if applicable).
  • Enable inspectors to record recommendations.
  • Produce custom-made safety reports as required using portable printers.
Handheld devices can include validations that allow or disallow data entry. They can also provide the user with historical information pertaining to previous inspection report.

Handheld applications should also be designed to minimize the amount of data entry and keystrokes required by incorporating a variety of techniques, starting from pick lists, through check boxes, to look-up lists and automatically generated results and shortcuts. Minimizing the amount of data entry that the end user has to perform is recommended to improve speed, accuracy, efficiency, ease of use and cost.

Finally, handheld software should be able to run on multiple hardware platforms, providing flexibility and utilization of future technology without avoidable and costly software upgrades. There is a wide range of PDA’s available with differing functions such as Bluetooth and wireless capabilities, phone, scanners (Barcode and RFID) and imaging capabilities. Ruggerdized and durable PDA’s are available for companies who operate in harsh working environments.

The CMMS desktop:

To maximize utilisation and return-on-investment, handheld applications should not be stand-alone. They should be designed from the outset to collect information, display and manipulate information, and transfer information to and from the CMMS application and back to the handheld seamlessly.

The CMMS application should provide a variety of operational and management functions including scheduling, tracking, reminders, corrective actions, follow ups, helpdesk, management functions and reports, and analysis tools.

The means of data transfer between handheld devices and the CMMS application can be through a standard cradle, wired modem, infrared, Bluetooth, or wireless communications.

Benefits of combining software with PDAs to perform inspections for the safeguarding of machinery:

Using handheld devices in conjunction with CMMS application will automatically transfer data from the handheld to the CMMS application without the need for further data entry or data reformulation. In addition, the use of such technology will:

  • Ensure your company is in compliance with OH&S Codes and Australian Standard 4024, which in turn ensure your employees well being and minimises the chances of heavy fines from the state WorkCover Authority.
  • Improve operational efficiencies; minimize unnecessary administrative tasks and data entry.
  • Increase productivity and profitability; Enable effective completion of tasks; Simplify repeatable tasks and provide staff with easy to use tools that focus on performing tasks.
  • Incorporate mechanisms to focus on exceptions and ensure proper execution of tasks, including automatic listing of activities, reminders, alerts, escalation procedures, and easy access to information
  • Ensure that inspection is performed according to warranties, guidelines and regulations.
  • Improve controls and accountability leading to better quality of work.
How does your OH&S manager find the right solution?

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

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 then list things that can be improved. Focus on the process and NOT on software or computers.
  • Prioritise potential improvement areas for example are the inspection procedures of a timely fashion, or are some safety inspections behind their scheduled dates due to unnecessary or copious amounts of Paper Work needed to complete the safety inspection?
  • Describe a short scenario where improvements can achieve your objectives. For example, minimize 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 proficients 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?
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 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 CMMS application?
  • 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 minimize 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?
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? For example match your business processes as much as possible to ensure a smooth implementation and acceptance of the new system.
  • Can you customise settings, such as field aliases and screens available to each user?
  • Will the system incorporate custom made Safety Inspection Reports that will ensure your company is complying with Australian Standard 4024?
  • 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?
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.

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