Environmental Health & Safety at Texas A&M Health Science Center

Inspection Time
University Business, December 2012
Texas A&M Health Science Center
Program Category: 

Any Texan will tell you that yes, size really does matter, especially in the expansive Lone Star State, where they tend to do most things big—and take pride in it.
Sometimes, though, that bigness causes problems.

Eight campuses of the Texas A&M Health Science Center are scattered throughout the state, and each campus requires a detailed safety inspection to determine the type of environmental health and safety training needed for its faculty, staff, students, and researchers.

“We were doing these inspections by hand,” explains John Fellers, director of EHS. “That process was arduous at best. We have several very large facilities: We have an eight-story high-rise building at our Dallas campus; we have an 11-story high-rise at our Houston campus.”

Each inspection took three staffers working for four days; following that, 32 person-hours were needed to enter the data garnered and produce reports that could approach 60 pages apiece.

And each of the eight campuses had its own EHS department, until three years ago, when a single, combined EHS unit was formed and headquartered at one of TAMHSC’s campuses. Soon, consistency and continuity in inspections were hard to come by.

“We wanted to make sure that since we’re one institution, we’re doing the same thing at the same time,” says Clay Hanks, director of operations and facilities management. “But it’s hard to get various experts in different fields on each of these campuses, because it’s cost prohibitive. At the same time, we wanted to know what’s going on, on our campuses.”

Seeking to leverage new technologies, TAMHSC earlier this year began using Apple’s iPad, and the device’s portability, flexibility, and power have greatly increased inspection efficiency. Using Zerion Software’s iFormBuilder mobile platform, EHS developed user-friendly inspection forms with headers and detailed drop-down menus of items that cue inspectors to look for specific safety deficiencies in a check-list manner.

The program also allows the inspectors to take photographs and record voice memos. Once the inspections are completed, the data and audio-visual materials are uploaded to a server from which reports are automatically generated.

Taking full advantage of the iPad’s capabilities, inspectors use its FaceTime app to show particularly knotty problems to off-site experts and ask for counsel.
“We can show exactly what we’re seeing in the field,” says Fellers. “It’s become a very efficient and helpful process to use.”

The amount of person-hours required to inspect the eight campuses has been halved, saving the center $8,000 in staff and travel costs. Additionally, Hanks says, validity and reliability of the inspections have increased, allowing TAMHSC to better target its training efforts, saving another $49,000 annually.

“This lets us know what type of training we need to do,” he says. “We get efficiencies in savings in people times and in where we invest our time in training.”