Technology streamlines massive fire inspection effort in Bangladesh

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[Partnering with MainSpring was] a highly rewarding experience because our work will help save people from harm. That’s unusual for an engineering endeavor to have such a clear mission and outcome.
Brian Rhodes, Director of Codes and Standards, Hughes Associates, Inc.

Challenge: improving safety inspections of manufacturing facilities in Bangladesh

Hughes challenge

Faced with evaluating nearly 1,100 factories in Bangladesh for fire and building safety hazards, engineering and consulting firm Hughes Associates, Inc., needed a way to streamline the inspection and reporting process on behalf of a client. The solution: a custom FileMaker solution that enables inspectors to gather information in the field with iPads and sync to a central database for reporting. The FileMaker solution—created in just three weeks by MainSpring— cut reporting time by as much as 50 percent. But most important, it enabled quick analysis of workplace hazards to boost factory safety.

Journey: no handwritten notes

Hundreds of global apparel corporations rely on factories in Bangladesh to produce their garments. To improve worker safety, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh was created by more than 150 apparel corporations. A key requirement of the Accord agreement was to conduct independent safety inspections for up to 1,100 factories.

As a leader in fire protection and life safety, risk and hazard analysis, and code compliance assessment, Hughes was awarded a contract to perform the factory inspections. The goal: identify the most severe fire and safety hazards as quickly as possible so they can be rectified. The catch, however, was that Hughes had to complete the project within just six months.

Traditionally, Hughes took handwritten notes and photos on-site and later entered them into an electronic document. Brian Rhodes, Hughes’ director for codes and standards, says, “We simply didn’t have time to report the old-fashioned way. Plus, it would have been a quality assurance nightmare to review so many reports from 20 different inspectors. We needed much more efficiency and consistency to handle a task this large in such a short time frame.”

Rhodes researched a number of packaged applications, but needed more flexibility than they offered. Eventually he discovered FileMaker.

Hughes worked with MainSpring to develop a custom solution using FileMaker Pro 13, FileMaker Server 13 and FileMaker Go for iPad. The result allows Hughes inspectors to collect data, including photographs, transmit data to offices worldwide and generate reports, all with a single mobile tool.

“Fast development was the key,” Rhodes noted. “The initial software solution was completed within three weeks. Bugs were worked out through continuing consulting support from MainSpring throughout the project.”

Today, using an iPad, inspectors can instantly pull up templates for standardized, common issues and then add their specific recommendations along with photos captured on the spot. After a quality check back in the office to certify the data is accurate, the iPad is synchronized with the central FileMaker Server in Bangladesh, which generates reports for the client.

Impact: saving time means keeping factories safer

Mother and Child

Saving time was essential for Hughes to meet the strict requirements defined by The Accord. The biggest impact, however, has been increasing awareness for factory owners of deficiencies in their building safety and fire protection. Hughes’ vital work is enabling The Accord to use detailed inspection reports to guide the factory owners with corrective action plans to better protect their workers.

“We’ve saved 30 to 50 percent on report generation time compared to doing things manually in a Word document,” Rhodes reported.

“I don’t believe there was any way we could have completed this critical project on time and within budget without our FileMaker solution,” Rhodes said. “It’s been a highly rewarding experience because our work will help save people from harm. That’s unusual for an engineering endeavor to have such a clear mission and outcome.”

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