I was watching a BBC documentary the other day on reductions in the death and serious incidents rates in surgery and it struck me how the key idea was very applicable to construction.  That idea? Simple checklists.

The program featured a top surgeon, Dr Atul Gawande from the US who was asked to investigate the death/serious incident levels in hospitals and see what could be done to reduce it.  He studied another industry with complex procedures and severe consequences when things go wrong to see what they did.  That industry was commercial airlines and one of the main tools used to avoid errors were checklists, in particular pre-flight  ones.  Even pilots who have flown thousands of flights still go through the same checklist process before taking off, the primary aim of which is passenger safety.

Jump forward to the medical profession and Dr Gawande developed a simple 1-page surgery safety checklist for  hospitals to implement and improve patient safety.  Frankly, I was very surprised that hospitals didn’t have such a thing already, but apparently not.  The reduction in serious errors or deaths in surgery for those hospitals who implemented the checklist was nothing short of stunning.  On average the reduction was 35% !!  If this had been a drug it would have been the biggest advance in the medical profession since the discovery of penicillin.  Remember that it was just 1 x A4 page with a checklist on, together with a shift in the culture in the operating theatre.

This showed to me the power of simple checklists to reduce errors in complex procedures.  Sure surgery is complex, but so is building a house. How could you use simple checklists to reduce errors in the field and make your operation perform more efficiently, on a consistent basis?  And when you apply this theory to H&S, you may even prevent a serous injury, or save a life.


The Trades Coach