Strengths of checklists
Checklists are commonly used as part of active and reactive monitoring in health and safety inspections and investigations, and they offer a range of benefits. These benefits include
- prior preparation and planning,
- ensuring the inspection is structured and systematic,
- providing an immediate record of findings,
- offering an easy method for comparison and audit.
One of the significant advantages of using a checklist in health and safety inspections is the degree of consistency in the process and the interpretation of findings. Inspectors can follow a structured checklist customised to suit the specific inspection area. This consistency helps to ensure that all hazards are identified and all necessary precautions are taken to mitigate them.
Using checklists in health and safety inspections also helps reduce the chance that essential areas or issues might be missed. This is particularly important in high-risk industries where hazards can result in serious injury or death.
Another benefit of checklists is that they can be adapted or customised for use in different areas. For example, a checklist used for a construction site may differ from one used for a healthcare facility. This customisation ensures that the checklist is relevant to the specific workplace, which can increase its effectiveness.
Weaknesses of checklists
However, using checklists in health and safety inspections also has weaknesses. The process may be overly rigid, with no flexibility to explore other issues of interest. This rigidity can result in essential hazards being overlooked, and inspectors may not be able to investigate matters that are not covered by the checklist.
Additionally, the checklist must be regularly reviewed and updated to stay current as the workplace evolves. Hazards can change over time, and if the checklist is not updated, it may become irrelevant and fail to capture essential issues. Moreover, people may have a tendency to complete tick lists without actually undertaking the checks that the list was designed to prompt. This can lead to a false sense of security that everything has been inspected when, in fact, critical hazards may have been missed.
The expectation of consistency can be taken for granted with little effort put into training inspectors to help ensure that consistency. If inspectors are not adequately trained and monitored, there may be inconsistencies in how inspections are carried out, which could compromise the accuracy of the findings.
Checklists are an essential tool for health and safety inspections and offer many benefits. However, their use needs to be balanced with an awareness of their limitations. Health and safety inspectors must be trained and encouraged to use checklists effectively while maintaining the flexibility to investigate issues of interest that may not be covered by the checklist. The checklists must be regularly reviewed and updated to ensure their relevance and accuracy. By doing so, the benefits of using checklists in health and safety inspections can be maximised while minimising the risks associated with their use.
Examples of the benefits of using checklists in health and safety inspections can be seen in many industries. An example is the 2016 Croydon tram derailment, where the use of checklists played a crucial role in the subsequent investigation. The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) used a checklist to ensure that all aspects of the accident were examined thoroughly, including the track’s condition, the tram’s condition, and the driver’s actions. The use of the checklist helped to ensure that all critical aspects of the accident were identified and that the investigation was carried out in a structured and systematic manner.
However, using checklists in health and safety inspections also has limitations. For example, in 2019, an investigation found that some gas safety inspectors were completing checklists without actually undertaking the checks that the list was designed to prompt. This highlights the importance of adequately training inspectors and monitoring their use of checklists to ensure that the checks are completed accurately and effectively.