Safe Operating Procedures (SOPs) are a set of instructions on how to perform a risky task with minimum risk of injury or damage to equipment. These instructions can also be called Safe Work Procedures.

The process of developing SOPs starts with the identifying the tasks that pose the greatest risks to workers and working down towards those with a lower risk. It is of paramount importance to involve the workers performing the tasks during the development of SOPs as their hands on experience provides invaluable input. The key steps that follow are;

1. Identifying each step involved to complete the task.

2. Identifying Hazards associated in each step

3. Establishing Hazard control methods for each identified hazard in step 2 above.

4. Document the Safe work Procedure

5. Communicate the SOPs to workers through constant training

6. Ensure compliance with SOPs while undertaking tasks through Supervision

7. Review SOPs periodically to ensure they are up to date and effective.

Now that we know what SOPs are, we can get back to the real world implications. As an OSH practitioner, the biggest headache comes in only one step, and that is step 6 above. We as human beings get creative (read bored) and come up with ingenious ways of shortening the SOPs thereby reducing their effectiveness. This can be as a result of competing demands on resources of time and money. These short cuts are what we refer to as unsafe acts and according to Heindrich’s accident triangle, these acts contribute to 90% of all workplace accidents. OSH Practitioners being human also approach SOPs in different ways. Some require 100% compliance while others allow exceptions. We can clearly see the Pros and cons of each approach. 100% compliance will ideally lead to zero accidents but at the expense of completion of a project within budget and on time. Exceptions could lead to work being completed within time and budget but could lead to loss of life. How then can one have the best of both worlds? An SOP Deviation.

What is an SOP deviation? I can describe it as an SOP that defines the steps to take in order to alter a particular tasks predefined SOP. Confusing? Let me clarify further using a case study.

We have an excavator to be loaded onto a truck. The standard SOP requires a ramp to be used but today the ramp is not available for a very genuine reason. The operators inform you of a method they have used before but it’ll deviate from the Loading SOP. As a safety officer, do you hear them out or do you remain steadfast and insist on 100% compliance with the SOP? Whatever your take, stay with me as I expound on SOP Deviation.

SOP Deviation comes as a result of unavoidable real world scenarios. In such cases there are Subject Matter experts who can come up with creative solutions to the problem at hand. These creative solutions often present new risks and the SOP deviation is key in addressing the new risks introduced by the new method employed.

SOP Deviation is therefore the Standard Operating Procedure for identifying, approving and tracking Deviation (s) which may occur during an activity. Therefore, the way in which a deviation is recorded should be standardized. The SOP Deviation should give the following information;

• SOP being deviated from

• Reason for Deviation

• Anticipated impact as a result of the Deviation

• Alterations (if any) that need to be implemented

• Authorized approvers of deviations

Using the case study above, I am certain a good SOP Deviation can be established in consultations with the operators to ensure the task is executed with minimal risk.

However, an SOP Deviation should not be a tool used to simply skip through a standard process. Each Deviation needs to show that the final outcome justifies its use. The safety personnel should endeavour to monitor the number of Deviations that occur. This is important as it provides insight into the general compliance with SOPs in the workplace.

If a number of deviations occur in the same SOP, it is an indication that there is need to review and optimize that SOP. Also, many deviations can indicate a general lack of enforcement / compliance with the existing SOPs or even training issues. Lastly, an excessive number of deviations in an SOP may indicate that the deviation process is too easy and encourages exceptions. This can be addressed by making the deviation process more tedious than following the standard process.

In conclusion, safety practitioners should not act as killers of innovation. Workers who do the actual job should be given opportunities to exercise their ideas while maintaining acceptable risk levels.

Are you willing to incorporate SOP Deviations into your safety management program? Comment below.


Works Cited

How to use an SOP Deviation. (n.d.). Retrieved from Doc Tract:

Rebecca Johansen, P. J. (2020, May 15). Autonomy Raises Productivity: An Experiment Measuring Neurophysiology. Retrieved from Frontiers in Psychology: