Checklists can be important, both in everyday life and at work.
Checklists are great at getting us organized, and are good for keeping us on the right track when we are going through a process that takes several steps due to its complexity or time. (Imagine how important that checklist is when you are buying a house or applying for college – all the steps you have to go through to make sure everything is correct, and knowing that the process can take several days or weeks to complete.)
However, checklists are only effective when they are actually used in the workplace. it is possible for firms to have many checklists and yet they only follow up on a handful of them. When checklists are considered part and parcel of the company’s safety culture and yet a majority of the checklists are being ignored or not followed up on, what can that say to the rank-and-file workers?
According to an article by Nicole Gravina in Professional Safety magazine, that arbitrary treatment of checklists leads to low morale and a lot of confusion among workers. After all, if they are led to believe that checklists are indeed part of the safety culture of the workplace and there are rules for their use yet those rules are not enforced, then workers may think that there are other rules that are more arbitrary and they may not know which ones they are. That leads to a lack of consistency and structure, which can affect workers’ productivity because they’re always confused as to what rules to follow, what checklists to work from, and so on.
And when you have workers thinking too much, they are not working.
The challenge of companies and firms who have and use checklists for their safety protocols, is to not feel a sense of obligation to have checklists everywhere. There is such a thing as the law of diminishing returns on checklists, unless you are a company that will actually utilize every checklist. If some are less important, then the company should eliminate them and be more efficient and consistent with the checklists they do have and use.
It is much better to be consistent and constant with the checklists you do have than to make workers thinnk that checklists aren’t all that important. Because if workers think one is unimportant, then eventually they’ll think all of them are unimportant.
Gravina’s article was published to bring to light the reality of checklists, and the understanding of the difference between a good checklist and a bad one, and what components go ito an effective checklist.
How to Improve Safety Checklists
Gravina writes about ways to improve checklists so they are more effective, but these steps could also be applied to assess existing checklists to determine their necessity and usefulness within the firm. A streamlined checklist process will improve productivity and improve safety, while maintaining the company’s stated emphasis on safety and a consistent application of the guidelines in place.
There are three main steps Gravina discusses in regards to making checklists effective.
What is Required?
The first step is to check to see if checklists themselves are a requirement for company policy or by a state or federal law. Some safety checklists are a requirement, while others are not; some are required once a month, some once a week. In any of these occasions, for the sake of efficiency it would be best to not do checklists any more often than required, unless there is an incident that may warrant a more frequent checklist.
For example, a company may only require a monthly inspection of certain machinery, but then that machine breaks down and causes an injury in the middle of the month,and it turns out that the problem could have been caught had inspections been weekly rather than monthly. Make a careful evaluation of each of your checklists to determine requirements and underlying necessity.
What Data Do I Need?
This is partly about whether the checklists contribute to incidents or actually prevent them, but that information is just one piece of the puzzle in determining an effective checklist. The data you need to make this evaluation comes from the answers to such questions as these:
- Is the checklist constantly finished as required?
- Is the checklist “pencil whipped”? (i.e. Is it just filled out just to be filled out, or are there actual steps taken to do it correctly and honestly?)
- Are the workers getting good information from the checklist? Is it useful to them?
- Does the checklist help establish a safer workplace, and is there data to back it up?
Collecting information from workers about the checklists you use through these types of questions will help you determine if the checklists are effective, if the workers find value in them or if the workers find them too difficult or complicated to fill out. All of this feedback can constructively go into a checklist redesign or discarding if it is found that it’s not doing what it’s supposed to, and there is really no way to reform it so it is useful.
What are the Pro and Con Motives?
This is where you work in both directions -not only understanding your own motivations for having checklists, but also understanding where management and the rank-and-file workers come from. People are more likely to do a task (such as filling out a checklist) when they have the skills, knowledge and motivation to do ti.
Chances are, when you make a checklist too long and too detailed, workers are less likely to complete it honestly and thoutghfully. And even if you have a checklist that is five items long but is more generic than a 20-item checklist, the five-item one may be more useful and effective because it’s more likely to be the one filled out in an honest way and not “pencil-whipped.” If workers or suspect that a checklist is or would be useless, they are less likely to fill it out or take it seriously anyway.
It is important to get input and feedback from all stakeholders, but especially those who actually fill out the checklists – the workers themselves. Workers will be more honest and open about their motivations or challenges with checklists if they are surveyed anonymously, and that should be something to consider in this process.
If you do decide to get feedback from your workers about your checklists, consider asking some of these questions, or similar:
- Is there enough time to finish the checklist?
- How long does it take to finish it?
- Does the checklist help you work safetly, and why or why not?
- Does your boss notice when you fill it out?
- With or without the checklist, how might the job be performed more safely?
- What might an ideal checklist look like, if you had a chance tomake one?
Do I Reveal the New Checklist?
Yes and no. After you go through all these steps to evaluate, assess and either change or create a checklist, the next important step is to “pilot” the checklist with a small group of workers and ask for more feedback from them. Checklists are effective at implementation, and having workers actually work with the checklist for a period and give anonymous feedback about it can help make the checklist even better, and more useful. And as with virtually anything having to do with safety culture, getting worker engagement in the process helps improve buy-in and will motivate workers to use the checklists and for supervisors and management to take them seriously and make sure they are used consistently to further improve safety.