The Benefits of Using Logistics Safety Checklists

Posted by Paul Little on 20 February 2015

Most everyone will agree that transportation regulations for hazardous materials are complex and a mistake or error by a hazardous material employee could cost employers thousands of dollars in penalties and possibly cause a release of hazmat or a personal injury.  When you review the hazmat incidents reported to PHMSA (see Incident Reports Database), over 17,000 in 2014, over 75% of the reported Failure Cause Descriptions relate to some aspect of human error such as:

  • Improper preparation for transportation
  • Inadequate blocking and bracing
  • Over filled/over pressurized
  • Forklift accident
  • Open valve

hazmat checklist image v21In fact, over 10% of the 2014 incidents that reported a failure cause, list human error as the cause.  To address such an obvious concern, more training or better quality training may be the answer.  Given the time pressures evident in today’s business environment, more training time may not be easy to come by. But the idea of improving the quality of the training may be easier to tackle and will gain more acceptance.  It’s not necessarily high tech, but the use of checklists to take an employee methodically through each required step in a procedure is a time-tested approach that works quite well.  

When checklists are incorporated into the training, employees leave the classroom with the understanding and the step-by-step instructions to accurately complete a procedure.  Checklists are an excellent training tool to teach employees and virtually guarantee compliance, if each step on the checklist is followed and a record is kept. The use of checklists is efficient and provides evidence of a systematic approach to compliance that the DOT will certainly appreciate.  Checklists also simplify the development of root cause and corrective action plans, should an incident or non conformance occur.  To read more about checklists, read The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande.

To derive the maximum benefit, checklists must accurately represent the required steps and be kept current, or they will not be used.   If technology can be used in the workplace, paper checklists can be replaced with e-checklists.  Checklists on tablets and smartphones allow the use of diagrams and photographs in addition to text to illustrate the correct procedure and the end result.  E-checklists can also time-stamp the activity (e.g., how long is the employee taking to do the task), record deficiencies through photographs and send an alert for immediate corrective action.  A downside to checklists is that they may be perceived as slowing the completion of the task or necessary due to unreliable employees.  Both these reasons should be dispelled; neither perception is true when the goal is safe, secure and compliant transportation of hazmat.

The opportunities to use checklists in a hazardous materials shipping operation include:

  • Classification of hazmat
  • New chemical introduction
  • Logistics safety management of change
  • Shipping paper requirements
  • Inspection of cargo tanks, portable tanks and tank cars
  • Inspection of trailers and sea containers
  • Filling non-bulk and bulk packaging
  • Labeling, marking and placarding
  • Loading and unloading of non-bulk and bulk packaging
  • Collection of logistics/distribution incident data
  • Logistics security requirements

Here are some tips on how to begin developing checklists:

1. Identify procedures that are complex, have numerous compliance requirements
    or are fraught with issues.
2. Review past violations and corrective actions for areas to focus on.
3. Identify the regulatory requirements.
4. Observe the current practice, record each step and incorporate best practices.
5. Develop a draft, including instructions with pictures or diagrams.
6. Share the draft with the users; incorporate their feedback into the final version.
7. Train employees on when and how the checklist will be used, monitor the use of the
    checklist and most importantly employee performance.
8. Revise the checklist based on employee feedback and performance. 

In summary, checklists are an inexpensive investment that establishes a standard across your company for hazmat procedures.  It can be used to improve performance, establish compliance and lower company liability.