EU countries are re-opening the economy of their communities at different rates for a second time this year. Perhaps it won’t be the last. The COVID-19 rules are changing each one of the public sectors. But one of the most overlooked on is the inspection management area of regulatory agencies.

Keeping communities safe is a top priority for every EU member sate. Safety inspectors are the people who ensure compliance with safety standards. Regulatory bodies are managing the governance on state and local level in order to guarantee the public health. The lower accidence rate in the safety regulated areas usually means that the regulatory bodies are doing their job fine. But when violations of the regulatory rules go undetected with growing rate, it’s a sign for couple of problems – the inspection management mechanism needs to be updated or the inspection capacity of regulatory agencies is over the top.

How digital inspections are facilitating the re-opening?

The answer to these problems usually is solved with reorganization and optimisation of resource utilisation. While in normal times government agencies had roadmaps ahead of time for optimizing their work, COVID-19 now complicates things. For instance, enforcing regulatory compliance via inspections in nursing homes, schools, restaurants, office buildings has become more challenging and at the same time more important. Many entities from these sectors have been closed and in order to re-open will need inspection.

Together with the increased inspection workload, there are new regulations lurking behind the corner (new hygiene standards because of COVID-19, social distance rules, etc.) that are going to complicate things additionally. Regulatory agencies are facing challenges and if they don’t find good ways to address them, the reopening of the economy might be slowed down. This will affect not only the public health, but also the wellbeing of everyone within the community.

Changing the inspection management process is crucial for the relaunch of the economy

inspection tablets canalix

Even though a lot of changes happened in 2020, most of the inspections in the public sector are performed the same way as 20 years ago. It’s enough to deduce that there are problems that need to be solved not just because of covid-19, but because they’ve be overlooked for a very long time. For instance, a lot of processes in the regulatory inspections are still paper-based and require full time working hours in office. On the top of that, administration staff needs to spend extra time on manual processing and clearing of data errors.

Digitalization of inspections

There are countries that transformed their regulatory agencies – the UK, Iceland, Canada, some US states, etc. But other countries are still not there. When we talk about removing paper-based processes and replacing them with digital ones, we don’t talk only about implementing digital inspection checklist instead of a paper one. We talk about taking a data-driven approach in the digital transformation of inspections.

How the data-driven approach transforms regulatory agencies?

The data-driven approach in inspection planning brings previously collected field data to use when setting up the priority of inspections. This enables inspectors to focus on risk and therefore improve the efficiency of inspections. What makes the difference in this approach is that inspectors are able to focus on the areas that are at higher risk and the event of violation in regulations is more likely. The risk-focused inspection method requires from inspectors to have special tools at their hands in order to work efficiently.

The new tools inspectors use for on-site inspections

Performing field inspections the old fashioned way – with many sheets of paper and a lot of manual work – can be optimised. Inspectors can use tablets and digital checklists for data gathering on the field, their inspection scheduling can be automatically updated on their devices in real time with different constraints taken into account. The inspection routes can be optimised so that inspectors can cover more inspection ground and travel less.

The early adopters of inspection management solutions in countries like the UK, Canada, Iceland are known to be benefiting these digital transformation perks. But for them and for the late inspection management software adopters there is a new challenge that came with Covid-19 – the remote inspections.

remote inspections

Remote inspections in the workflow of regulatory bodies

One year ago nobody would have imagined that it is possible to perform remote inspections on nursing homes or schools. But 2020 changed a lot of things, including our perception of what’s normal. The new normal requires new methods of performing inspections. So how do we transform inspections into remotely done work?

First there needs to be done a broad distinction for which inspections can be done remotely and which not. For regulators with paper based process it will be hard to attain visibility on all inspection data. But agencies that have already transformed their inspection process can easily gather and analyze data in order to determine the most prevalent risk factor, complexity score and the impact on community for each inspection entity. With this factors being addressed, regulators can take on the following strategies:

1. Assign self-inspection for low risk inspection sites.

Let’s take for an example a nursing home. In this scenarios the administration of the nursing home will be provided with an access to a self-service portal and inspection checklist that needs to be filled. The staff of the nursing home can perform the inspection on their own while filling the necessary details on the digital checklist and then submit the information for inspector review.

The self-inspection is a simple process that can be easily implemented on an already existing digital infrastructure. Nonetheless, experimenting with self-inspections can be a great first endevour for the late government agencies adopters of digital inspection solutions.

Related: Why Self Service in Inspections is Important?

2. Perform traditional inspections with inspectors on site for complex and high-risk cases

The high complexity requires more attention. Therefore the cases that impose higher risk because of their complexity need special attention from inspectors on site. The inspection planning of such cases can go as usual. But still – a fully digital inspection process can reduce the covid-19 risks and facilitate the compliance with social distance rules because of the paper-free workflow and fully digital document management.

3. Delegate the compliance with new COVID-19 rules to self-inspection

Some government agencies are keeping their approach conservative, even if they use all of the advantages of the digital transformation. Meaning that they stick to the traditional on-site inspections for both – low complexity and high complexity entities. Still, they can optimise their work by delegating the compliance with new COVID-19 rules to a self-inspection process. This is a smart way to remove the additional weight of new regulations off the tasks list of inspectors on site.

Is this the future of inspections?

Data-driven, risk-focused, remote process. These three pillars have already started shaping the modern era of inspection management before COVID-19. The global pandemic only accelerated this transformation. It’s a hard thing to plan and implement, but this is where third party inspection management solutions are making the difference by helping the public sector to embrace this much needed change.

Transforming government agencies and regulatory bodies is not just a matter of fashion anymore. It’s an essential transformaton with key role for the safety of our communities. Inspection organisations need to act now. Contact Canalix if you’re in need of a fast and easy digital transformation plan.

What does risk based inspections means? It’s a regulatory enforcement activity that is performed with focus on importance and urgency of intervention against a set of risk criteria. In other words risk-based inspection management is prioritizing cases that are imposing high risk on safety. The priority is being defined on risk factors.  Depending on the specific area where the inspection is being performed, the risk factors are varying.

What’s challenging is finding the right approach to consider different risk factors  and form a risk-focused inspection program. With a lot of regulatory agencies  on the road to adopt cloud based digital infrastructures, the need for establishing effective inspection model becomes more pressing. Reaping the benefits of digital transformation in regulatory inspections is possible when the inspection program is set up according to the best practices. So what is the right approach to build a risk-based inspection program?

Related: How to formulate cloud adoption strategy in regulatory agency?

  1. Define inspection entities based on risk criteria

Each economic sector has its specifics. Obviously a broad distinction must be made between different regulatory areas and the nature of their inspection process. After the broad distinction comes more specific one. What is the minimum inspection frequency for large food facilities in populated areas? What is the minimum inspection frequency for work safety inspections in big construction sites? Each economic sector must be defined by its specific risk factors. Once the broad distinction is made, minimum frequency of inspections is defined, then it’s risk prioritisation time based mostly on historical inspection data. The priority of inspection activities depends on local risk-factors. This approach is considered in countries as France, Finland, Japan and United States.

  1. Prioritisation with scoring system

What is a scoring system?  This is more advanced approach to prioritisation of risk based inspections. The scoring system is based on pre-defined point scale. The complexity or urgency of each inspection case is being determined by a score that takes into account multiple risks. However, some risks have more weight than others. The scoring system reflects that and helps regulators increase the efficiency of inspections. Some of the countries that are using scoring system in their inspection management programs are the UK and Netherlands.

Methodology for adopting risk-based inspection programs

If we were living in 1999, perhaps the best methodology would be to build an excel table and ask inspector to do the risk scoring manually. But we’re living in 2020 and technology is far more advanced now. Long story short, the best methodology for adopting risk based inspection program is by moving inspections onto cloud-based infrastructure and perform them digitally. With digital gathering of inspection data the inspection program can be easily transformed into risk-based one according to the best international practices benchmarked by countries like the UK and Netherlands.

Transforming inspection management is a complex subject. Trying to sum it up would always end up into over simplification of some sort. Book a free consultation with our team and we will explain to you in details how to transform regulatory inspections according to the best international practices.