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Checklists serve as vital safety tool

Written by Chip Pocock - 19 May 2017

Whether done the old fashioned way with pen on paper or performed using a digital checklist, the key is that the inspection is done thoroughly and conducted by a qualified person.

Whether done the old fashioned way with pen on paper or performed using a digital checklist, the key is that the inspection is done thoroughly and conducted by a qualified person.

Last month as my wife and I sat on a plane departing Las Vegas after ConExpo, I spotted out the window the pilot on the tarmac performing his pre-flight inspection. He was walking along the wing looking up at the flaps and other parts and pieces as well as the engine areas and landing gear. He occasionally stopped and put his hands on something and pulled or pushed. 

After a week of being immersed in new technology and ideas at the huge ConExpo tradeshow I thought about how basic and important inspection checklists are to the operation of an airplane or a crane.

Watching that pilot reassured me that should the “big bumps” over the Rockies happen on this flight we wouldn’t have to worry about losing a wing or some other cataclysmic event because the pilot would surely see cracks or other indications of trouble. Otherwise, we’d be safe flying back east despite the Rockies and possible turbulence. The pre-flight inspection, much like the daily pre-shift inspection for cranes used in the construction industry, are both required by federal law. This is in an effort to keep us safe. 

My wife then elbowed me and said what are you looking at?

“Nothing honey. It’s all good.”

She settled back into her seat, picked up her book and went back to reading.

“I hope our crane operators are doing the same quality inspection as the pilot of our plane,” I remembered thinking.

Wikipedia defines a checklist as “a type of informational job aid used to reduce failure by compensating for potential limits of human memory and attention. It helps to ensure consistency and completeness in carrying out a task.”

A basic example is the proverbial “to do list.”

Vital tool

Inspections, whether for safety and compliance, quality control or something else are an important part of what we do each day. The use of a checklist to ensure we don’t miss things is vital to routine inspection success.

The Federal Aviation Administration defines a checklist as a formal list used to identify, schedule, compare, or verify a group of elements or actions. A checklist is used as a visual or oral aid that enables the user to overcome the limitations of short-term human memory. Although a checklist may be published in a manual, it is designed for independent use so that the user does not have to reference a manual. Checklists are used to ensure that a particular series of specified actions or procedures are accomplished in correct sequence. Aircraft checklists, in particular, are used to verify that the correct aircraft configuration has been established in specified phases of flight.

So, aircraft inspections much like crane inspections begin with a pre-flight inspection of the aircraft itself and extend to communication and control inside the cockpit to emergency procedures. Much like flight, inspections of cranes must be perpetual throughout each shift.    

While OSHA or ASME do not define a checklist in this same fashion, in my opinion, whether performing a post-assembly inspection of a large lattice machine, a daily pre-shift inspection,  a monthly or annual inspection or whatever required inspection is being performed, it should be done using a checklist to ensure we haven’t simply forgotten a critical area or item.

While a daily pre-shift inspection is referenced as a visual inspection and therefore not required to be documented, I believe most safety professionals would agree that completing a checklist on a daily basis is the only way to document and verify that the inspection was actually done prior to the start of a shift.

The old saying is that “if it’s not wrote down, it didn’t happen” still holds true.

Today, whether you are a certified crane operator or a certified crane inspector or both, you have options of how inspections are documented. You may elect to use the traditional written checklist or document using a checklist in a digital format which may also allow inclusion of photos and may also allow for an automatic dedicated distribution list of the finished inspection report. 

Written and electronic versions of required inspections are produced by a number of trade associations, manufacturers and others. You or your company may develop your own checklists as long as they cover the required items listed in the applicable standards. Refer to the appropriate section of the OSHA Standards or the proper ASME B30 Standard to determine the inspection checklist items.

Another area of our businesses that use checklist is the transportation sector with required pre-trip and post-trip inspections being documented. I always wondered what checklist a driver used when I pass a truck out on the road and notice that a taillight, marker light or headlight is not functioning.

Whether a crane or Department of Transportation inspection, checklists are important tools to prevent us from missing important items that need to be reviewed. Whether done the old fashioned way with pen on paper or done using a digital checklist, the key is that the inspection is done thoroughly and conducted by a qualified person.  

‘Pencil whipping’

One issue with checklists that employers must be on the lookout for is “pencil whipping.” Verifying that inspections are performed and that accurate results have been appropriately recorded is key to maintaining a healthy safety culture and a good inspection and maintenance program. Training on checklist use and follow through by management to ensure deficient items are corrected and that routine audits to ensure and verify inspections are being done effectively will help ensure inspection checklist are not pencil whipped.

While I cannot promote one checklist over another, what is important is that the checklist is thorough and appropriate for the equipment being inspected and that the inspectors utilize the checklist when and while performing inspections. Think about that the next time you are about to take off in a plane or when you are riding next to a truck regulated by DOT. If we expect planes and trucks to be inspected properly to ensure our safety shouldn’t we expect the use of a checklist and the assistance they provide in getting quality inspections of our cranes?  

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