Human Factors

Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)

Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) are a key part of managing the quality and safety of critical tasks. For the operators, they should provide information for conducting the task successfully. For the management system adherence should reduce performance variability and deviations.

Human Factors

Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)

Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) are a key part of managing the quality and safety of critical tasks. For the operators, they should provide information for conducting the task successfully. For the management system adherence should reduce performance variability and deviations.

The Problem with Procedures

One of the most common root causes found after an incident is non-compliance to procedures – if only the operators had done what they were meant to have done! The recommendation might be to review and update the procedure and train everyone on it to reduce any future non-compliance. However, there might have been problems with the procedure in the first place.

In our work, we often find a gap between the work-as-documented and the work-as-done. Some of these gaps can be relatively small, e.g. erroneous steps in the procedure which aren’t performed or steps that are missing. Some of these gaps can be larger, e.g. procedures are very dated and do not reflect changes to plant design. The operators cope and work around these issues, they might even develop their own little black books with informal notes to help. 

The Problem with Procedures

One of the most common root causes found after an incident is non-compliance to procedures – if only the operators had done what they were meant to have done! The recommendation might be to review and update the procedure and train everyone on it to reduce any future non-compliance. However, there might have been problems with the procedure in the first place.

In our work, we often find a gap between the work-as-documented and the work-as-done. Some of these gaps can be relatively small, e.g. erroneous steps in the procedure which aren’t performed or steps that are missing. Some of these gaps can be larger, e.g. procedures are very dated and do not reflect changes to plant design. The operators cope and work around these issues, they might even develop their own little black books with informal notes to help. 

Considerations for procedures

On the surface procedures seem like quite a simple tool, but digging below the surface we find there is much to consider in getting these instructions right.

Purpose

It is important to establish what the expectations are for any procedure. Some might expect procedures to be full step-by-step procedures that should be in-hand and followed on the job. Some might expect procedures to be more reference and training aids for new starters, where they are not expected to be in-hand on the job. Some might have tick boxes, initials and signatures as proof of compliance, leaving an audit trail and record of what is done. 

Usability

The form of the procedure is important. Procedures should be well laid out, with appropriate font size, structure and headings so it is readable. Warnings and critical information should be clear, and highlighting should not be overused. There should be consistency, so bold, italics, underlining and colours are not all used in different ways in different places to highlight information in yet another way.  

Content

The content of the procedure is just as important as usability: we need form and function. There should be consensus around best practices, with agreement between staff and management. The content should be well organised where individual steps needed to perform particular goals and sub-goals are grouped. Step-by-step detail should be specific. Steps should be brief and direct.

Risk-informed

Procedures and work instructions are a way of communicating risk to operators. Too often we see procedures that tell staff what to do to complete the task, but they do not highlight where the risks are in the task. Critical steps should be identified and highlighted. Critical information should be provided so operators are aware of the consequences should something go wrong.

Job aids

A full step-by-step procedure might not always be warranted. David Embrey published a matrix combining severity of consequence, task complexity and familiarity to help think through these issues. If a task has high consequences, and is complex and unfamiliar, one would expect a step-by-step procedure. If a task has low consequences, and is simple and done daily, one might expect to use a job aid or to work from competence alone. 

Work-as-imagined vs Work-as-done

It is important to engage with frontline staff when developing and reviewing procedures. They are the experts who need to perform these tasks. They may develop workarounds and have tacit knowledge that should be articulated and shared. Sometimes this can be a source of innovation for improved performance. Sometimes there might be push back as ‘why’ something is done a certain way has been lost, which could have implications for quality of safety.

Multimedia

New media means new potentials for how and when to present information to people. Paper procedures still dominate but different organisations are beginning to implement digital procedures. This can allow staff to engage with the granularity of information they need. It can provide just-in-time video instruction. It can allow for better teamwork and coordination as information is distributed. It can allow for better recording of what is done and when. The SHERPA Software has these capabilities. 

Download our FREE Software Brochure

Software for Procedure Review and Writing

The SHERPA Software can greatly help here at all stages of procedure review and writing: it can import procedures, it has an intuitive graphical interface for reviewing the task, it can highlight where the main risks are, and it can output formatted procedures including warnings, comments, and pictures with the touch of a button. 

SHERPA can also be used as the basis for digital procedures to track where different people are in the task, recording their actions. 

SHERPA SOP output can be tailored to your company template, branding and logo. Take the heavy work out of procedure review and writing, let SHERPA save you time, trouble and effort.

Software for Procedure Review and Writing

The SHERPA Software can greatly help here at all stages of procedure review and writing: it can import procedures, it has an intuitive graphical interface for reviewing the task, it can highlight where the main risks are, and it can output formatted procedures including warnings, comments, and pictures with the touch of a button. 

SHERPA can also be used as the basis for digital procedures to track where different people are in the task, recording their actions. 

SHERPA SOP output can be tailored to your company template, branding and logo. Take the heavy work out of procedure review and writing, let SHERPA save you time, trouble and effort.

Related articles...