Business safety inspections in Peru are conducted by municipalities with their own staff. Currently, these inspections are conducted on a paper form containing more than 100 items regarding compliance with regulation of hallways, electronic boards, staircases, evacuation routes, signaling, etc. Inspectors visit a business, walk around the premises, take notes, and at the end of the inspection usually fill the form from memory, assisted by notes taken during the walk-through.
There are three types of inspections. Low or medium risk (conducted by one inspector); high risk (two inspectors of different specialties); and very high risk (three inspectors of different specialties). At the end of inspections with two or more inspectors, inspectors need to compare notes and fill out the items corresponding to the area in which they specialize. This discussion takes time and is complicated by the fact that some items are not clearly defined as pertaining to one or another inspector (like signaling).
The paper form contributes to making the process highly discretionary. Some items in the checklist require to inspect multiple units of the same element, such as electric boxes, and then answering whether all the units comply. This leaves room for discretion, interpretation, and error. For example, an establishment might have 20 electric boxes and only one that is non-compliant. The form itself has no way of showing this rate of non-compliance, let alone the number of electric boxes in the premises. Two inspectors applying the same criteria might therefore reach different compliance outcomes, depending on whether they inspected the one box that was non-compliant. In addition, inspectors might apply different criteria, with some considering that 95% compliance rate for an element should be awarded a “comply” in the form, and others considering that non-compliance of a single unit deserves the element to be marked as “does not comply”. In high and very high risk inspections (two or more inspectors) the paper form can also lead to error. Because multiple inspectors share only one paper form, at least one of the inspectors has to rely on their memory during the walk-through, which means they might pass over certain items. Business owners usually complain about this lack of predictability, and some have to go through up to even five inspections before obtaining a certificate.
This study is embedded within a larger experiment aiming at improving the inspection system. This larger intervention consists of introducing electronic business safety inspections in four municipalities. By using tablet computers with software specially developed for the inspections, inspectors will fill out the forms electronically as they conduct the visit. In inspections that require multiple inspectors, each inspector will have access only to the sections that correspond to their area of specialization, and they will merge their reports seamlessly at the end.
Our intervention will provide a more standard data entry instrument. In addition, it will generate compliance reports automatically, as well as other reports that were previously done by the inspector after the inspection, saving time to the inspector and the firm. Furthermore, electronic inspections will increase accountability, as all inspection data and results will be automatically uploaded to a dashboard that can be accessed by the inspectors’ supervisor.
Our intervention also reduces the problem of inspector discretion in instances of multiple elements. For example, the electronic system includes a space to identify each electric box by an ID, and then conduct the inspection box by box. Furthermore, some items in the paper form pool together hallways and staircases. In the electronic form, the inspector can enter data for each hallway and staircase separately. At the end, the system produces a report with the same format required by law, but the municipality has more disaggregated data, which can allow them to identify compliance problems more accurately.