PDA Software Offers Auditing Advances: PDAs May Not Be Perfect for Safety and Health Audits, but They Certainly Are an Improvement over Pen and Paper. (Computers)

Article excerpt

Audits and inspections are critical components of any good safety and health program. Management audits evaluate whether the occupational safety and health management system adheres to recognized good practices and meets organizational needs. Compliance audits gauge the organization's compliance with regulatory requirements. Without an effective audit program, even the best safety and health program can crumble under the weight of regulatory change and organizational entropy.

Auditing is simple in concept but resource-intensive in execution. It is no wonder that most organizations use computers to streamline the process. While computers are great for developing questionnaires and checklists, or managing and tracking corrective actions, even notebook computers are too bulky and inconvenient for fieldwork. The result is that most auditors still use a pen to record their observations on paper questionnaires.

The small size and long battery life of Palm Pilots and other personal digital assistants (PDAs) make them attractive for completing audits in the field. While an organization could use Pendragon Forms and design a custom application that integrates PDAs into its audit program, Creative Business Solutions offers an off-the-shelf solution in PPM Audit.

PPM (Process and Performance Measurement) Audit is a Microsoft Windows application for designing and completing audit questionnaires and tracking corrective actions. As an added bonus, PPM Audit includes PDA software support so audit questionnaires can be completed in the field using PalmOS and WinCE PDAs.

Audit Design

Designing audits in PPM is straightforward. Give the audit a name, enter the audit questions and define an answer set, maximum score and other essential properties for each question (Figure 1).

Audit questions are grouped into related blocks by assigning them section, subsection and item numbers. Questions also may be assigned up to six category numbers that allow a range of options for grouping questions and responses for reporting at a later time.

The set of valid answers for each question, called response options, is managed using response lists. PPM Audit comes equipped with a set of nine default response lists, including:

* Yes, no, n/a;

* Compliant, in process of compliance, noncompliant; and

* Strongly agree, agree, no opinion, disagree, strongly disagree.

Each item in the response list is assigned a percentage value used to score the audit based upon the maximum score assigned to the question. For example, suppose the possible responses to a question are "compliant," assigned a value of 100 percent; "compliance in process," with a value of 50 percent; and "noncompliant" at zero percent. If the question has a maximum score of 10, an answer of "compliant" would score all 10 points, "compliance in process" would score five points and "noncompliant" would score zero.

After a response list is assigned to a question, the audit designer can define a default response, which can include boilerplate text automatically inserted as part of the narrative response. A question can also include scoring criteria (text that guides the auditor in selecting the appropriate response).

Finally, word processor documents, spreadsheets, Web sites or other documents can be linked to an audit question. This can provide auditors easy access to policies, procedures, regulations, standards and other information directly from PPM Audit.

Audits do not have to be built from scratch. Questions can be imported from existing text and spreadsheet files. While the text and spreadsheet files must fit strict format requirements for proper importation, PPM's excellent tutorial feature provides clear guidance. …