The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) always planned for the off-site audits to become the norm. The coronavirus pandemic merely accelerated it. From 2017 to 2020, the number of off-site audits increased fifteenfold, and the number only appears to be increasing for 2021. Currently, these remote audits account for about 46% of all of these inspections, but at the rate it is growing, it is only a matter of time before they pass 50%, and you eventually find yourself having to partake in an off-site audit yourself.
Fear of Failure
The first thing you need to acknowledge is that before, the FMCSA guidelines stated that the worst that could become of an off-site audit was a conditional pass with a followup for an on-site audit. With the increase of remote work, that is changing. As the technological inspections increase, the FMCSA will inevitably make it so that an Unsatisfactory rating is permissible to give over the Internet, essentially barring you from working in the industry.
Digitize Your Records
Depending on how long you have been in business, your paper trail of records could be less than a foot tall to filling an entire office in drawers. When conducting an off-site audit, the FMCSA will ask carriers to upload their data to the Safety Measurement System.
It is generally a good practice to have both hard and soft copies of every document, in the case of a fire or harddrive failure, but if you have not yet made the transition to digital, now might be the right time to do so. Ideally you would either enter the data from the records manually or scan the papers and save them as a PDF. You might want to get an intern on this project, as it is generally a lot of busywork.
As 2021 comes to a close, the chances of your next audit being off-site will be more likely than not. As the FMCSA leverages technology to streamline the process and save them the money of having feet on the ground, you must be prepared for the shift, not unlike the requirements for the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse.
As with all things in the trucking industry, a little preparation goes a long way.
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