A few of months ago I read a great book by Atul Gawande (The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right) which makes a compelling argument: when dealing with complexity, we can do better using the simplest of methods – the checklist. After finishing the book, I started implementing checklists in my work for two specific tasks: improving the way I supervise the environmental, social and health and safety (EHS) aspects of Bank operations, and helping a client in Haiti implement their EHS management system.
When we supervise EHS aspects in operations, there are a multitude of things we need to think about & look for. Here is just a small sample of the questions we ask ourselves:
- Are the construction workers wearing adequate personal protective equipment for the task they are doing?
- Where does the solid waste generated by the works end up?
- Is hazardous waste being managed and stored adequately?
- Are the construction firms (and their subcontractors) training their employees on EHS aspects, and are the trainings adequate?
- Do they have a grievance mechanism in place and is it effective?
- Are they using good indicators for measurement of EHS performance?
- Do they have the proper legal authorizations for the work they are doing?
Whenever I travel to different IDB projects in Latin America and the Caribbean, I have noticed that using checklists by areas/topics (i.e. social, solid waste management, health and safety, training) has improved my evaluation of those areas/topics that are working well and the areas/topics that need to be improved. This, in turn, has helped the client improve their EHS performance.
Another example where the checklist(s) should improve EHS performance is an operation we are supporting in Haiti. We are starting to work with the client on implementing an EHS management system that has several procedures covering topics such as “site access and security,” “food provisioning,” “stakeholder engagement,” “transportation” and “chemical handling.”
As part of the procedures, there are specific checklists that need to be used to verify that adequate EHS management is happening and that the system is aligned with industry standards – including ISO14000 and OHSAS18000 requirements (which also use checklists). As an example, the system has an inspection checklist for employee transportation buses with around 28 questions to verify that the buses have, among other things, a fire extinguisher, good tire pressure, functioning seatbelts and proper legal & insurance documentation. Another example is the procedure for the handling and storage of chemicals, which has a chemical safety checklist addressing issues such as the product’s flammability/fire risk, the risk of skin exposure to the chemical & need for personal protective equipment (PPE), its potential ignition sources and the waste disposal to assess the risks associated with each chemical. Once the system starts to be implemented, we will hopefully see improvements in EHS performance.
Obviously the checklists are not the solution to everything. That said, we all know that intelligent and well trained people occasionally make mistakes, and that the more complicated tasks become, the easier it is to make those errors. As a result, the use of checklists can reduce mistakes and – in my case – improve EHS performance.
Photo by Antono AB / CC BY 2.0