Improve Safety With Electronic Data Capture and Analysis
By Greg Norris, Construction Executive
Paperwork tends to be despised on heavy construction sites, where crews and foremen would rather focus on building. That’s a dilemma for safety managers. They rely on forms and documentation to monitor conditions, prevent incidents and meet compliance requirements.
More and more contractors are overcoming this challenge by switching from paper forms to electronic forms. They’re finding out that a software-based solution for data capture and analysis not only gives them better data with less effort, but also allows them to actually use the data.
Heath Wahden, CFO at Barriere Construction in Louisiana, says his company decided to switch to electronic forms because the vast amount of paper forms out in the field were not getting submitted in a timely manner. “We were finding that a lot of this stuff was getting lost in the trucks of our foremen or superintendents and coming in two weeks later,” he explains.
Having current and historical data from toolbox talks, incident reports, inspections and a host of other safety-related documents stored electronically in one database also makes it easier to generate reports. “Instead of just collecting the information, we can actually use it to identify trends and improve our performance,” says Mike Nelson, safety manager for a heavy civil contractor based in Minnesota.
BETTER FORMS – BETTER DATA
Producing effective safety-related forms and materials and getting them to the jobsite is the first challenge for safety managers. With an electronic system, contractors can customize forms and make edits easily. Publishing the forms – essentially making them available to anyone with a mobile device – is then as easy as a few clicks. Likewise, submitting electronic forms back to the office is instantaneous.
In the field, electronic forms are easier and faster to fill out and they can capture richer data. Time stamps and GPS coordinates, photos and videos, e-signatures and built-in approval workflows increase the value of electronic forms while taking time and effort out of the process.
“Filling out paper forms is cumbersome, and the lag time in getting the data back was a liability,” explains Nelson. “We would also get inconsistent data depending on the effort, accuracy or the style of the person filling out the forms.”
“We customize forms for the specific information we need to capture and we lead employees down a path to providing responses,” adds Scott Adams, who introduced electronic forms into the safety process for another large North American civil construction contractor. “We take away opportunities for errors and make it easier to fill out the forms by using drop downs, check boxes and other functionality.”
Tino Rodriguez, a foreman at Barriere Construction says, in the past, paper forms for toolbox talks were mailed to him. “I would present them on Monday mornings on the jobsite, turn it in and hopefully it would get to the office by Friday so I could be checked off on it,” he adds. “Now, I open up my iPad, open the program and go directly to toolbox talks, present the topic, have the guys initial by their names and submit to the office. It’s submitted by 7 a.m. every Monday morning, which leaves me no room for error, losing paperwork or anything of that nature.”
USING THE DATA
Getting better data with more speed and efficiency is an advantage, but the biggest value with electronic forms may lie in what contractors can actually do with the data.
Many safety forms completed for documentation or compliance purposes at construction companies end up in filing cabinets and never see the light of day. Pulling the forms together into meaningful reports is a time-consuming, manual effort.
Adams says having data from forms in an electronic format and accessible instantaneously opens opportunities for analytics and reporting. His company has steadily increased the creation of routine and ad-hoc reports and dashboards. “You’re not just filing the paper, you can actually pull information together, analyze it and use it to improve safety and performance,” he explains.
“We can reference past data and generate reports without the tedious, manual effort and sorting through papers that was previously required,” adds Nelson.
These contractors also use a feature known as alerts and notifications. They set up their forms to trigger automated and instant messages – delivered by text or e-mail – when a particular field is completed in a particular way. For example, an employee checking “yes” on a field asking whether or not an accident caused a personal injury can trigger an immediate alert to specified recipients throughout the company, such as the safety officer or executives.
“We’re not only getting information back in a more timely manner,” Wahden concludes. “We’re also able to track and trend the different elements that are being collected on the forms and provide meaningful trend analysis to help predict different issues with pieces of equipment or with different incidents out there in the field that could be managed or resolved through this collection of information.”