Standard Operational Procedures
Standard Operational Procedures (SOPs) describe how you and your team carry out your daily operations. The SOPs should bring consistency to employee actions across the business and give life to the policies in your safety management plan.
SOPs are created by applying the safety policies and risk management processes in your safety management plan to the actual activities and tasks that make up your daily operations.
SOPs tend to fall into two main categories:
- activity specific
- associated operational areas, e.g. staff induction
"Our SOPs are our operational Bible; they make it really clear what we want done a certain way every time, e.g. clients briefings versus where our guides should apply more judgement and initiative to their decision making, such as assessment of client skill levels."
Keep the following in mind when you develop your SOPs
- SOPs must align with policies in your safety management plan
- SOPs will often take the form of staff handbooks or manuals and may include checklists and forms
- staff will often take SOP documents with them into the field, e.g. emergency response procedures
- SOPs should clearly differentiate your non-negotiable ‘must-do’ procedures from those where you permit greater degrees of judgement and initiative
- in addition to safety information, SOPs may include other operational guidance, e.g. a daily runsheet
- SOPs should help direct your staff to use supporting operational systems, e.g. incident reporting or hazard identification
- Review your SOPs regularly - make sure they work for you and your team and reflect current industry good practice
"We update our SOPs at quiet times when we have time to really challenge what we do and involve the team."
Ensure your SOPs reflect industry good practice
Your SOPs will describe how you manage risks in particular activities. These must be aligned with industry good practice standards. Refer to the Good Practice section to ensure you know what those standards are.
Every activity you offer should have SOP's.
This sets the operational scene for the activity and usually includes:
- factors determining whether the activity goes ahead e.g. weather, access or minimum client or staff numbers
- any environmental operational parameters e.g. seasonal restrictions, weather, river levels, avalanche risks, time of day
- client participation criteria e.g. age, competency or health
- client supervision levels
- staff competency requirements and roles, including who has overall responsibility, and who is responsible for particular safety aspects
- other factors determining whether the activity goes ahead, e.g. access or minimum client or staff numbers
This is the part of your day before clients arrive. Procedures usually include:
- pre-activity hazard management procedures e.g. the procedures you developed in your hazard management process relevant to the pre-activity part of the day
- equipment required for clients, staff, activity operation, communications and emergencies
- a staff briefing agenda that includes operational factors and reminders about the activity's significant hazards, including hazard updates, and how they will be managed
- reminders to complete pre-activity paperwork e.g. intentions forms, client medical and contact information, waiver forms, staff hazard update sign-offs
During the activity
- client briefings including pre-activity risk disclosure - what to cover, when, how and who should deliver the information
- general operational information e.g. a ‘runsheet’ of the day
- hazard management e.g. significant hazards and the procedures to manage them
- safety monitoring e.g. who's responsibility is it to monitor general safety and ensuring that operational procedures are followed?
- incident and emergency procedures
- specific site information such as access, egress and communications systems coverage
- guidance on how to deal with variations to SOPs e.g. to what degree can a guide use judgement and initiative when changes occur
- ‘activity complete’ procedure e.g. letting the person responsible know that you have finished
- return and ongoing care of equipment and vehicles
- debrief of client and customer feedback
- completion of all record keeping responsibilities e.g. vehicle logbooks, trip reporting forms, incident reports
Some of the more risky or complex operational areas will also warrant a SOPs approach. What you cover will vary depending on the task being performed.
Here is an example of what to consider when developing a SOP for driving:
- route descriptions
- vehicle loading parameters
- operational restrictions such as trailers, chains, roof racks etc
- driver licence and/or experience requirements
- vehicle checks
- licence and log book requirements
- specific speed restrictions
- vehicle loading
- trailer-use procedures
- equipment to be carried e.g. fire extinguishers, shovels, chains, first aid kits, communication devices
- breakdown and roadside assistance procedures
- risk management procedures for other hazards you have identified such as snow, fatigue or very busy roads. Note that reversing is a particularly risky activity when visibility is limited or there are many people near the vehicle, and has resulted in serious incidents in NZ. Ensure you include procedures to manage this risk
- vehicle cleaning and re-fuelling requirements
- recording of mileage and use
- parking and trailer storage
- drop off locations for keys, vehicle checklists, etc.