Before the dawn of digital technologies, monitoring of the workplace environments and different aspects thereof was limited to manual inspections using paper-based checklists. Surprisingly, many organisations still use this to conduct inter alia health, safety and environmental inspections with the traditional clipboard, pen and checklist in hand, a practice that continues to persist within an array of industries.
However, given the core focus of most of the ISO requirements - being performance evaluation, risk-based thinking, and the need for continual improvement - such paper trails are becoming increasing difficult to manage and control.
Requirements for electronic record-keeping, and the increasing complexity of compliance demands a change in approach and mindset. While one may argue that the biggest advantage of a manual method is that it is cheaper and easier to implement, but considering the possibilities of inefficiencies, inaccuracies, unclear records, and lack of real-time data (typical of manual inspections and paper checklists), may end up, far costlier in the long run.
Paper vs. Digital Checklists
Most obviously, paper takes up space and requires tedious, mundane human intervention in terms of filing, recording, and storing of such lists. Paper is further prone to wear and tear, and in a worst-case scenario, can literally go up in flames and unless there is a dedicated person or process to ensure that all checklists are filed, maintained, and recorded, a case of the “dog ate my homework” scenario is further likely to occur.
Not only is paper a cumbersome method for storing records, it’s also more likely to get lost or misplaced, leaving the organisation with no or inconsistent proof of compliance.
Another unfortunate truth about paper-based checklists is that it would require information be translated into some kind of usable data as a single or ream of papers worth of checklists has no real meaning if the content is confined to a ring binder file, thus adding to man-hours and expertise spent on admin as opposed to perhaps technical areas that requires more attention than the processing of information… perhaps the argument of cost is not so lucrative as initially proposed?
With digital checklists and automated data logging, not only does it address the issue of space, but also that of data protection and accessibility in that electronic checklists can be stored using cloud-based solutions.
Another advantage of considering the digital route is that unlike paper, on which one can only record numbers and letters, a digital checklist can also store photos and other attachments, which may be serve as justification or motivation for a specific response.
It is much easier to organise, sort, and access specific digital records if in electronic format rather than paging through pages in a file in hope that the specific required checklist is available.
In short, digital checklists allows for inspections to be completed more efficiently and effectively in comparison to paper-based checklists.
Legibility, Continuity and Compliance
A digital platform allows for all information to be recorded in a manner that is reliable and efficient, as reading an electronic response is easier than having to be a handwriting expert to decipher a lengthy handwritten response.
If the digital checklist allows for scoring – compliance monitoring and tracking is another important consideration for moving from a paper-based checklist system to a digital one, as scores are automated based on the responses, thereby abandoning the tedious process of manually having to capture the information to be available as usable data.
As part of an automated process flow, checklists can be digitally assigned to responsible persons with relevant due dates and standardised to specific sites or areas of inspection, and thus can be visible by enabling useful filters that can be used to either monitor the performance within a specific operational area or key performance indicator for those completing the checklists, thus significantly reducing the risk of information “lost in translation” or simply misplaced
Variances are easily detectable, and checklists can be expanded to directly link nonconformance (where applicable) and assigned preventative actions as required as opposed to paper- based checklists were such variances although recorded might be overlooked.
Time-Consuming vs. Efficient Inspections
Once information is recorded on a paper-based checklist, such information is static and cannot be changed without authorisations and or other additional protocols and or processes in place, by digitising the process, this allows for collaboration and escalation as part of an automated process as opposed to manual intervention that can be time consuming in terms of backtracking and traceability etc. in the event of discrepancies or disagreement, note that checklists are then still editable and only once finalised and signed off as accepted can be published as static evidence with the advantage of traceable access and changes, with minimal effort.
Digital checklists, further reduces the risk of clerical glitches, or human error thus managers can feel more confident that the information recorded is accurate and easily accessible on a platform that is configured in accordance with the organisation’s requirements.
Spot vs. Centralised Record-keeping
Paper-based checklists and or inspections can be managed in a smaller and within a limited environment, but when you manage a national chain with multiple locations, spot checks are just that – spotty.
In years past, if management requested information from a remote location, they would have to call the location (which may be in a different time zone), get through to the appropriate person, who would then need to sift through many records to find the requested information, and send through a copy or transcribe the recorded info, once the information is relayed, using an analog system, management would then gather all requested information from each location, consolidate the information and record the data into a central processing system, and only then – analyse the data – a tedious cycle that never ends, whereas with the introduction of digital monitoring systems, wireless devices and cloud-based storage allows for the information to be centralised and easily accessed – in real-time regardless of location and or time zone.
Save the Planet and your Sanity
By changing from paper-based checklists to that of a digital platform, not only will it contribute to saving the planet by saving the trees, but also prevent unnecessary time and effort in generating data that is indicative of compliance.
By Priscille Farinha