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Blog: Remote inspections encourage companies to act responsibly even under corona conditions

6.5.2020 8.00
News item

Remote inspections have helped us promote and maintain industrial safety even now when we are living the time of corona.

At the Industrial Processes Unit of Tukes, we introduced remote inspections in 2017. As far as we know, we were the first European authority that supervises establishments handling and storing dangerous chemicals in a large scale to introduce such a service. Over the years, we have had the opportunity to present our practices to various listeners both in Finland and abroad.

In this blog, we share our experiences of remote inspections.

We supervise the above-mentioned ‘Seveso sites’ and conduct periodic inspections in them at regular intervals. Due to the corona pandemic, we currently do not make customer visits on site, but we conduct all our inspections remotely.

Before the inspection: getting prepared

The actual inspection day consists of two parts: a review of relevant documentation and a site tour. In Tukes’ experience, both of them are also easy to conduct remotely.

With a view to completing the inspection successfully, sending questions to be answered in advance has proven to be a good practice in case of both remotely conducted and on-site inspections. In practice, an expert from Tukes sends to the responsible person of the industrial establishment questions to be answered in advance, and this person sends his or her responses about one week before the inspection.

The questions to be answered require some advance writing work from the responsible persons of establishments, but they also serve as preparation for the actual day of inspection. At Tukes, we go through the answers in advance and, based on them, consider which are the matters we should focus on during the actual inspection. The company’s answers are used as such in the inspection report.

Inspection day: conducting a remote review of documentation and site tour

Even when carrying out an on-site inspection, the documents are reviewed around a table, so such matters are easy to do also remotely. Before the inspection, we always discuss data security issues with the company and agree together which software to use. We also agree in advance which materials they should keep available, so that they do not need to go search for additional folders in the middle of the meeting.

In remote inspections, the site tour is conducted either using a video connection or photographs. We usually use the floor plan of the establishment to ask for photographs in advance of specific chemical sites, such as tanks, pipes, leak management, changes, overall view. Sharing the screen has proven to be a good method, since the video and photo files are large. When collecting photo material, it must be borne in mind that no other equipment should be used in EX areas with explosive materials than those that can be safely operated in them.

In our experience, sharing of photos and videos allows us to establish a good overall impression of the situation in the establishment. If required, we can agree on an on-site visit later.

After the inspection: feedback

Normally, we would always consider together with the customer how the inspection is to be carried out. When considering the issue, we observe the risks involved and the question whether a remote inspection can fully replace an on-site inspection. Now, during the corona pandemic, remote inspections have given us an opportunity to carry out our statutory duties despite the emergency conditions, and Tukes has been able to continue its inspection programme in the normal manner, only remotely for the time being.

The feedback given by companies on the remote inspections has been mainly positive. There have been challenges with, for example, connections and sharing of photos and videos, but we have been able to solve most of them in good collaboration.

We have received positive feedback on the questions sent in advance and the efficient use of time during remote inspections. Another positive feature of remote inspections is that various specialists from the company or different authorities can easily attend them, for example, for a limited time only. This also benefits the company being inspected.

Even though we are living an exceptional period, we still want to encourage operators to act responsibly. Annually, Tukes inspects approximately 250 establishments handling chemicals and explosives. So far, in spite of the exceptional circumstances, their number would seem to remain practically unchanged.

We are constantly developing our operations, and we are carefully collecting all the lessons we can learn from the corona spring as well.

For more information, see the Remote inspection and inspection of the corporate group website on tukes.fi

Kuva: Tanja Heinimaa Tanja Heinimaa
 Senior Officer, Industrial Processes Unit