Businesses of all sizes have always found the process of OSHA inspections and compliance daunting, and 2015 is no exception. The agency bolstered its injury and death notification requirements and increased the list of employer types now required to maintain injury and illness records – all while introducing a number of ever-shifting regulations and compliance standards.

One reason that OSHA compliance and reporting has proved challenging is that businesses operating in heavily regulated industries such as construction, mining and manufacturing have historically relied on paper forms and manual processes – which can negatively impact reporting accuracy and timeliness, the costs associated with safety programs, and the productivity of workers responsible for these tasks.

While OSHA doesn’t break down its more than 80,000 or so annual inspections (Editor’s note: combined state OSHA plan and federal inspections) by industry, three out of the top 10 most cited violations last year – fall protection, scaffolding, and ladders — involve construction standards. OSHA is cracking down on construction companies that have demonstrated recalcitrance or indifference to the safety of their employees. In 2010, OSHA launched a program, the Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP), addresses repeat violators, and is increasing enforcement to bring companies in line. According to OSHA’s website, construction companies comprise a whopping 60% of the severe violators list.

For all but the largest construction firms, custom mobile app builds are prohibitively expensive, and also tie up precious IT resources that can be better spent in other areas of the business. The good news for construction business owners is that cloud-based app builder tools and even third-party business app stores are removing these traditional cost and resource barriers. In fact, Canvas’ recently released 2nd Annual Mobile Business App survey finds that more than one-third (36%) of construction firms used more than five mobile business applications last year, while seven in ten (69%) were able to build a mobile business app in one day or less. In most cases, the apps were built by individuals who held little to no programming or IT expertise at all.

For construction firms seeking to enhance worker and site safety reporting and compliance, switching from paper forms and Excel spreadsheets to mobile apps offers several key benefits.

Mobile apps for OSHA safety checklists

OSHA may have issued you a “checklist” when you opened your business, but that’s just a starting place. That’s because the agency’s inspectors develop their own policies for specific industries via the “General Duty” clause, with which they can cite workplaces for violations of regulations that aren’t written down. And they use this clause — especially in the chemical industry.

As a construction business owner, you can’t simply follow OSHA’s safety checklist and take a nap. You’re responsible for creating and maintaining your own safety checklists and procedures specific to your workplace — and then for keeping those checklists up-to-date and following them.

As opposed to paper checklist forms, construction firms can customize mobile apps to your company’s unique and varying needs, in turn making your OSHA compliance efforts much easier and more effective. With mobile checklists, you enter data in real time and that data is not only stored in the cloud, but can be immediately shared with a supervisor or manager, minimizing response times to trouble areas.

Construction firms can also create a variety of inspection checklists for various tasks and sites — all accessible from a smartphone or tablet. And as OSHA guidelines evolve and change, it’s easy to update your mobile apps to reflect changes and immediately deploy the information across your organization. Your mobile checklists are not only more flexible than the paper versions, ensuring that your business is in compliance with the latest regulations, but employees will never again have to drag around a big binder while doing a self-inspection or making copies of paper checklists.

The reduction in costs and paperwork is just a start. Mobile apps allow you to gather data as you complete your internal safety and health inspections. Data is then stored in the cloud where you can retrieve it instantly and analyze it quickly. With mobile apps, the cumulative data story you collect will make your worksite safer and take OSHA compliance to next level.

Mobile apps for OSHA inspections

When it comes to conducting quality control, safety and compliance inspections at construction sites, paper forms introduce several vulnerabilities and inefficiencies. Workers could report inspecting a site they never visited, and workers must rewrite the same information over and over, use expensive carbon copies that are hard to read and easily lost, and are limited to text-only data.And then if there is a safety issue, it could take hours or days to get the information to the right person in order to deal with the issue.

Mobile inspection apps allow your business to build in time and date stamps – as well as GPS location – to ensure inspections are being done correctly and in accordance with company and industry regulations. Mobile inspection apps also allow for multimedia (photos, etc.) to more easily report complicated issues and provide visual proof as needed.Finally, rather than collecting and filing multiple rounds of paper inspection form signatures, digital signatures can be collected directly on the smartphone or tablet device using just a finger or stylus. Mobile apps also create a standardized process for collecting important data.

Mobile for OSHA self-audit programs

OSHA compliance can be improved when construction companies are able to proactively conduct self-audits without tying up staff resources and budget. Small to mid-sized construction firms in particular typically lack the bandwidth for an internal team of safety specialists to manage training and ensure that regulations are met in a timely fashion. By leveraging DIY app builder tools and cloud-based mobile app solutions, these businesses are able to enhance safety operations without the need for staffing resources that are typically not available. 

Construction firms can in effect digitize manual processes and paper forms for self-audits through the use of cloud-based mobile apps. Essentially, a self-audit walks construction owners through the main areas OSHA inspectors will evaluate when they visit the site, while prompting you to consider whether or not you meet compliance. Self-audits can be enhanced through greater accuracy and efficiency by using mobile apps instead of paper forms, and while they typically don’t cover every single standard, they do touch on key parts of an inspection.  

OSHA compliance can be daunting for construction companies of all sizes, but by leveraging cloud-based mobile apps instead of paper forms for inspections, safety checklists and other OSHA processes, your business can improve compliance and reduce costs.