Ergonomics 4 Schools

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  What is a checklist?

A checklist is a list of items for consideration. They can be in the form of questions or actions to be carried out. They can have a scoring system or they can collect comments. Checklists can speed up the collection of information by using tick-boxes and rating scales. They need to be carefully designed to make sure that when they are completed, the results are reliable and true. Checklists can act as memory aids to make sure that all the relevant issues have been considered.

Using checklists  

Uses of checklists

You can use checklists for many things, such as:

Designing a product - you might have a checklist of functions that you want your product to have.
Evaluating equipment - your checklist may remind you to consider all the various people that might come into contact with the equipment. With a washing machine, for example, you would obviously have the direct users, adults and young people at home. But you also need to consider the sales person in the shop, the delivery man and the service engineer. A checklist will help you to remember them and the different ways in which they would interact with the machine.
Deciding what to buy - if you are buying a personal computer, you may have a specification checklist that tells you what speed computer you need, how much memory it needs to play your games, what size monitor you would like and so on.
Operating complex equipment - your checklist may be a sequence of things that you need to do in certain order. Pilots use checklists to check controls and functions of an aeroplane before take-off.
Carrying out maintenance - your list may be a set of checks that need to be carried out a intervals and can provide a written record that those checks have been done.

Contents of checklists

Checklists need to be relevant to whatever you are checking, and detailed enough to enable you to do a thorough job. A checklist needs to be constructed as questions and clear steps, in some sort of logical sequence. The best way to do this is to work through all of the issues that are likely to be important and prepare a set of written comments about the product, task or environment. Out of these written comments you can prepare your checklist.

You can use checklists to help evaluate products, both for usability and for safety. See the topic on product evaluation for more information. Human users are always at the centre of ergonomic evaluation of products and a checklist for this purpose should include the user, what task they are doing, any other equipment needed, and what conditions of light, heat and noise they are acting under. You should include the following:

The user
  • What is their age, gender, size and strength?
  • What is their training and experience with the product or similar products?
  • What are their expectations about the product - how do they expect it to operate? Do they want to use it?
The task - does the task match the user?
  • What they are expected to do and understand during the task?
  • What do they need to know before they carry out the task?
  • Will they be able to complete the task comfortably and safely?
The equipment - does the equipment match the user?
  • Can the user see and reach all relevant parts of the product?
  • Can the user handle the product comfortably and safely?
  • Is the product easy and convenient to use?
  • Does the product 'fit in' with any other equipment or furniture that needs to be used?
The environment - does the environment match the user?
  • Is the lighting suitable for the task?
  • Is the temperature comfortable for the user, when the task is being performed and when it is not?
  • Is the air quality good enough?
  • Are noise and vibration levels acceptable for the user?
Engineers, designers and consumers can develop and write their own checklists for tackling the ergonomics aspects of their particular situation. Good examples of checklists can be seen in articles evaluating consumer products where all of the relevant product characteristics have been identified, and then a whole range of similar products are checked to come up with a score of how well they match users' needs.


Interpreting checklists

You should consider a checklist as an initial guide in the process of design or evaluation, and one particular checklist is unlikely to be appropriate for many different problems. The checklist should contain a series of questions to ensure that the analysis or design has not overlooked the main interactions between the user, their task, the equipment and their environment.

Checklists should not be the only means of evaluation for products, as they often lead to 'yes'/'no' or 'never'/'sometimes'/'frequently' type answers. While this can be valuable, sometimes there may be degrees of acceptability, that is, a product may just pass in one characteristic but coupled with other characteristics, overall it may be unacceptable. For example, if the lettering on a product is larger than the minimum recommended, but the lighting where it is to be used may be poor, this would make the lettering more difficult to read and a larger size may be better. An example is the labelling on the back of your computer that tells you which lead plugs in where. Your computer may well be stored under a desk and if you wanted to leave it in place while you changed a lead, the lighting would be poor.

Although checklists are usually simple, it is important that anyone using a checklist understands its function and how to use it. This should avoid misinterpretation and ensure consistency across users and reliability of results.

It is often useful to have a section for notes as there may be other relevant information that may need to be collected, for example to explain a certain answer.


Safety gateExample checklist
for evaluation of
a child safety gate

Question  Yes No
Is the gate resistant to push and pull forces generated by a child?   
Is the gate free from protrusions, points, edges, burrs, flashes, or splinters?  
Are any gaps large enough to prevent finger entrapment but small enough to prevent hand insertion and body part entrapment at all times through the ranges or movement of the latch and hinges?   
Is there sufficient gap between adjacent horizontal members to prevent potential footholds? If there are any features, such as hinges, catches, decorations and fittings, are they narrow enough not to be an adequate step?   
Is the vertical distance between the highest attainable foothold and the top of the barrier sufficient to prevent a child climbing over?   
Does the latch require at least 2 distinct actions to operate it, one of which is an upwards force?   
Is it easy to tell when the gate is correctly closed?   
Is it possible to open and close the gate with one hand?   
When the gate is open, is the gap wide enough for an adult (possibly a pregnant woman) to pass through easily?  
Is any bar that must be stepped over to go through the gate as low, narrow and rounded as possible, to prevent tripping?  
Does the latching mechanism self-latch?   
Do the instructions include all the necessary information, such as safe assembly procedures, installation, removal, use and maintenance, as well as warnings against potential misuse?   
Can the gate be installed or removed without tools or technical expertise?   
Are all materials resistant to a child's bite, UV, etc. and will not degrade over time?   
Will the gate remain safe and useable for all of its expected lifespan, including when sold as second-hand?  
Stanton, N (ed) (1998) Human factors in consumer products. London: Taylor & Francis ISBN 0748406034

Magdalen Galley