Sunday, November 17, 2013

Elements of Inspection Reports

Elements of Inspection Reports
This article has been intended not only to help those who are new in the area of writing inspection reports but also to help those who have been involved in writing inspection reports for many years and are willing to sharpen their skill more in this field. There are some basic elements that an inspector must not forget while writing an inspection report. For this reason, an attempt has been made here to remind the inspectors what they should include in their inspection reports. A good inspection report usually includes the following elements in it.

A. General Information
·                     Name of the business
·                     Business address
·                     Name of the owner/operator
·                     Name(s) of the personnel directly involved in the inspection and their titles
·                     The date of inspection
·                     Name of the inspector (with signature)
·                     Name of the recipients (with signature acknowledging receipt)

This information includes all potential witnesses and helps future inspectors to smoothly conduct their inspections. If there is any additional information, it can be included in this section.

B. Purpose of Inspection
The reason or reasons for the inspections should be clearly stated in an inspection report. This helps the reader to get an idea about the purpose and scope of the inspection. Generally, agencies conduct inspections for the following reasons:

·                     Routine compliance
·                     Follow-up/re-inspection
·                     Complaint
·                     Emergency response
·                     Installation, removal, or closure 

C. Consent Documentation
Documenting consent in all inspection reports helps an inspector to protect himself from the later claims of civil rights violations and damages, and the accusations of impropriety. By simply documenting consent, future constitutional challenges and constraints can be avoided. Taking prior consent to conduct the inspection, to take photographs and samples gives an inspector the solid legality to smoothly conduct the inspection. In most cases, the consent is taken from the business owner or operator. If the owner or operator is absent, an inspector should make his best effort to take consent from a person with authority to grant consent.

D. Business Activities
Business activities of the businesses should be documented in all inspection reports as they give a better understanding of the potential regulatory requirements. For example, including the permit/authorization status of units in an inspection report helps the reader much to indicate which regulations are applicable to the unit/facility. In some cases, it is necessary to document additional information related to the operation of the facility.

E. Violation Documentation
Accurate documentation of violations in an inspection report greatly increases the probability that the violation is enforceable especially if it is challenged during enforcement. An inspector should bear in mind the four key elements to documenting a violation — (i) identifying the violation supported by a statutory or regulatory citation, (ii) gathering evidence such as photographs, samples, documents and obtained statements that strongly supports the elements of the violation, (iii) providing corrective action to be taken and compliance timeframes for correction, and (iv) documenting compliance with minor violations, non-minor violations, unresolved compliance issues, corrected minor violations and re-inspection.

F. Observation Documentation
An inspector should document all observations made at the facility or site in the inspection report.  Alongside, relevant observations such as the types of paperwork reviewed, dates noting changes in operation, names of visited areas, tested alarms or sensors, and information provided by the facility about the decisions they have made that may affect the regulation of a material or waste should be noted in the inspection report. However, these observations should be brief so that they can convey only important information.

G. Use of Notes
A vast majority of inspectors use notes as a common tool. These notes are also regarded as a part of the public record. The same guidelines as reports should be followed while taking notes during inspection. They should be not only factual, but also non-judgmental. There are many agencies that follow the practice of using notes so that they can accurately compile the inspection report. Their aim is to compare those notes to the final report so that they can ensure the accuracy and completeness of the final report. Later they destroy the notes.

Tips to Write Good Inspection Reports
Writing good inspection reports is the result of continuous effort. A lot of practice is needed for an inspector to become successful in writing good inspection reports. However, an inspector should consider the following elements while writing inspection reports.

A. Fairness
As an inspector you must write your inspection report objectively. Hence, you should keep yourself impartial, unbiased and unemotional. In addition, you must be aware of the facts you have already gathered. You have to present these facts fairly in your inspection reports. Distortion or emotional tone of words must be avoided. Never emphasize on the significance of the evidence because it may considerably diminish the value of your report.

B. Quality
You should remain aware of maintaining the quality of your inspection report. Since the overall quality of an inspection report depends much on how you communicate your findings to the reader, you should as far as possible present your findings in your report precisely and exactly. Precision and lucidity of an inspection report mostly depend on proper dictation, phrasing, and sentence structure.

C. Quotation
You should use your own discretion in determining whether you should quote or paraphrase a witness in your report. You should consider these factors according to the significance, or length of the statement.  If quotation is necessary, you should quote the exact words of the witness with quotation marks; otherwise, you should omit quotation marks.

D. Exaggerations
Exaggerations destroy the authenticity of an inspection report. So, you must be careful about exaggerations. Even one small exaggeration may throw doubt upon the authenticity of other statements presented in the report. Instead of stating that something was obvious; you should only state the facts clearly and exactly.

E. Opinions, conclusion and inferences
It is advisable not to include opinions, conclusion, and inferences in inspection reports. Only stating the facts should be your business. Stating your personal opinions and inferences in an inspection report may make its authenticity questionable. Your only goal is to present the facts in such a way so that there is no need for conclusions or interpretations.

F. Superlatives
The use of superlatives in your inspection reports may lead your readers to doubt your objectivity.  For instance, the statement 'A violation is found…' is more reasonable and stronger than 'The worst violation is found…' To state, 'He is a skilled worker' depicts a more convincing and stronger picture than 'He is a highly skilled worker.'

G. Accuracy
Accuracy means correctness and truthfulness. It increases the acceptability of an inspection report many times to the reader. Hence, before submitting the final report, you should verify and cross check the accuracy of your findings and computation. Even a single typographical error in time or date may throw doubts on other facts in your report.

H. Technical Writing and Acronyms
If you work with chemicals with complex scientific names, you will see that many of these chemicals have been identified by acronyms. Much care should be taken when using acronyms. It is advisable to use the scientific or common name in your report for the first time. Afterwards, you can use acronyms of the chemicals.

I. Simplicity
You should present all the facts and findings of your inspection in a simple and plain language. If the subject matter is very complex, try to avoid any kind of elaboration. Instead, present only the facts, findings, and necessary explanations. Readers always like to get the facts from an inspection report as quickly as possible. Use short sentences and short paragraphs in your inspection reports as they are easily digestible and reader friendly.

J. Completeness
A good inspection report depicts a complete picture to the reader. So, try to state all information that is relevant and factual. Use your own discretion in determining which facts are relevant and necessary. Completeness means that all the known facts and details have been included in an inspection report and no further explanation is needed. Remember that your report is totally complete only when it exactly answers the questions of who, what, why, when, where, and how.

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