To Manage Risk- Use Checklists!

One of the least appreciated but easy to use tools to manage and control legal risk are checklists.  I like to use checklists on a regular basis in many departments as checklists bring to focus only risks that have been encountered in the past but can be tailored for a particular industry or sector or business division.

What are checklists?  Checklists are a list of topics, questions or items normally derived from the risks encountered previously that provide a convenient means to rapidly and easily identify possible risk.  They take the form of either a series of questions or a list of topics or items to do or to be considered.  Organizations may generate checklists for themselves or make use of standard checklists available from their particular industry or business sector.  The nice part about checklists is that they are easy to create (once you know the right questions to ask) and use as a method of deducing risk.

For example, if you are in a manufacturing company which designs products, would you have a checklist about the safety steps that should be followed instead of trying to reinvent the wheel by figuring out what potential safety issues exist

What if you are drafting the warning and labels for products your company is manufacturing?  Wouldn’t a checklist of questions help in the drafting.  As you can see from the checklist below, once you understand the industry and business sector, the right questions to ask or items to list are a great help in managing legal or business risk. The checklist could look something like this:

  1. Warnings
    1. Are warnings adequate?
    2. Do warnings address misuse of product?
    3. Do warnings cover inherent hazards?
    4. Are hazards properly covered?
    5. Do warnings warn users against obvious risks?
    6. Do warnings clearly state the consequences of improper use?
    7. Do warnings warn users against all risks?
    8. Do warnings reasonably communicate the seriousness of harm that may result from improper use?
    9. Do warnings adequately indicate the scope of danger?
    10. Do warnings indicate the level of hazard seriousness?
    11. Do warnings indicate the likelihood of the hazard resulting in harm?
    12. Do warnings adequately alert a reasonably prudent person to the danger?
  2. Labels
    1. Is the label accurate complete, visible and understood?
    2. Is the label easy to understand?
    3. If the label is incomplete, does it state that other materials will provide full information?
    4. Are labels and warnings consistent?
    5. Does the label mislead consumers in any way?
    6. Do labels include how and where to obtain service?
    7. Do labels contain information:
      1. Maintenance
      2. Service
      3. Alterations
    8. Do labels comply with governmental requirements
    9.  Are labels monitored for accuracy and adequacy?

As you can see, checklists are quite handy.  I use them often when counseling clients on risk.  Use them on a regular basis if you can.


  • Bryan is quite right here in the importance of ‘Checklists’. However it is also important not to allow them to be written in stone. There have been many disasters / unnecessary deaths (hospitals etc) where those “responsible” claim to have fullfilled their duties by “completing the checklist!!”, therefore anything beyond what was on the list is not their responsibility. This is constantly a problem within government institutions where nobody wants to be accountable.
    What I recommend is to leave several empty boxes at the bottom of the said checklist and make sure they complete it with observations which were not included. Don’t let them finish the job until the boxes are complete. This makes those going through the list look for other irregularities. In the security field whereby manned officers are not always the most imaginative / creative this helps them think a little more beyond the daily walk around shift!
    Anthony Hegarty MSc

    Anthony HEGARTYMarch 4, 2016
    • Good point. I suggest using checklists as only a tool and not a guide. You are right that the checklists should not be set in stone- but should be updated on a regular basis.

      Bryan HopkinsMarch 7, 2016

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