What Is SOP (Standard Operating Procedures)

A SOP with full meaning Standard Operating Procedures could be said to be a set of step-by-step instructions compiled by an organization to guide workers on how routine operations should be carried out. It helps to achieve efficiency, quality output and uniformity of performance, while reducing miscommunication and failure to comply with organizations best practice.

Let us narrow down to the Health and Safety Profession;

SOP are procedures that are extensively employed to assist with working safely. They are sometimes called Safe Work Methods Statements (SWMS, pronounced as ‘Swims’). They are usually preceded by various methods of analysing tasks or jobs to be performed in a workplace, including an approach called Job Safety Analysis, in which hazards are identified and their control methods described.

Procedures must be suited to the literacy levels of the user, and as part of this, the readability of procedures is important.

Standard Operating Procedures should clearly lay down instructions for operation of process plant that take into consideration COSHH, manual handling, permit to work, PPE Regulations, quality, HAZOP, and other SHE requirements. The procedure should represent a definition of good or best practice that should be adhered to at all times. Process operatives should be provided with guidance concerning the required operating philosophy to ensure that they comply with procedural requirements.

Adequate training should be provided to ensure that operators are fully conversant with written procedures.

Importance Of Standard Operating Procedure

Managers use SOPs to communicate to staff and explain how to perform certain company operations. Employees uses SOPs for reference when learning to complete certain tasks according to established protocols. Regulatory agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration, use SOPs when determining whether a company’s processes meet agency standards.

Where SOP is Applicable

Comprehensive written operating procedures should be generated where applicable that address:

  • Standard operating procedures and operating philosophy;
  • Abnormal operating procedures;
  • Temporary operating procedures;
  • Plant trials;
  • Emergency operating procedures;
  • Commissioning;
  • Plant Start-up;
  • Plant Shut-down;
  • Bulk loading and unloading;
  • Process change;
  • Plant change.

These procedures should cover the following:

  • Material safety data (COSHH);
  • Plant operatives should have an awareness and understanding of material safety data for raw materials, intermediates, products and effluent / waste;
  • Control measures and personal protective equipment;
  • Location of plant where process to be undertaken;
  • Roles and responsibilities of individuals involved in plant operations;
  • Plant fit for purpose;
  • The condition of main process plant and equipment (clean, empty etc. as appropriate) should be established as being fit for purpose;
  • The condition of ancillary process plant and equipment (clean, empty etc. as appropriate);
  • Plant correctly set-up for processing;
  • Process monitoring and recording;
  • Monitoring and recording of key process parameters (temperature, pressure etc.) in plant logs;
  • Quality;
  • Sampling of raw materials, intermediates, products and effluent/waste;
  • Packaging of final product.


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Standard Operating Procedures should be controlled documents, generally covered under the company’s quality system and thus kept fully up to date. Any changes should be fully controlled and documented and should be subject to company change procedures (see Technical Measures Document on Plant Modification / Change Procedures). Standard operating procedures may be revised for the following reasons:

  • Introduction of new equipment into the process;
  • Introduction of new chemicals into the process;
  • Significant change to process, task, personnel or equipment covered by the procedure;
  • Plant trials have been successful and need to be incorporated into standard operating procedures.

Important Content Of O Typical SOP


  • Title page

This page can include:

  1. The title of the procedure
  2. An SOP identification number
  3. A publication date or revision date
  4. The name of the role, organization, division, or agency that the SOP applies to
  5. Names and signatures of those who prepared and approved the procedures outlined in the SOP
  • Purpose of the SOP

Users may quickly refer to the purpose instead of reading the whole SOP.

  • Table of contents

You only need a table of contents if the document is very large with many pages. The table of contents allows easy access to specific areas of the document.

  • Specific procedures

This is the bulk of the document and includes the specific step-by-step procedures that need to be followed in order to successfully comply with company standards and safety regulations. This section could also include:

  • A description of the scope and purpose of the SOP, its limits, and how it’s used. You can include standards, regulatory requirements, roles and responsibilities, and inputs and outputs.
  • Necessary and additional details that are needed to complete each step. Discuss decisions that need to be made, possible blockers, safety considerations, and any other “what if” scenarios that may arise.
  • Clarification of terminology, including acronyms and phrases that may not be familiar to your audience.
  • Health and safety warnings. These warnings should be listed in a separate section, and they should accompany applicable steps within the process.
  • A complete list of all equipment and supplies that are needed, where to find them, and when each will be needed.
  • A troubleshooting section to cover things that can go wrong, what types of things the reader should look for, and what may interfere with the final outcome.

SOP Sections

  • Purpose: This section describes the reason the document has been created. This information should be presented as a short paragraph that states the nature of the procedure and why your business performs it.
  • Scope: Next, the SOP provides a short paragraph that describes which activities are under the purview of the procedure.
  • Definitions: Here, you define any of the procedure’s terms that need special clarification. This section is industry-dependent and can be omitted, if it isn’t relevant or necessary.
  • References: This section lists other supporting documents and material, such as a quality manual or an international standard. This section is also industry-dependent, and in some cases, may be omitted, especially if the procedures are self-explanatory.
  • Requirements: This is your opportunity to describe any requirements that must be in place before executing the procedure, such as personnel training to build the necessary skills.
  • Responsibilities: This section explains who is responsible for which aspects of the procedure.
  • Procedure steps: This section will provide step-by-step instructions that describe how to perform the business activity. It is important to make the instructions unambiguous. Shorter sentences are easier to follow, especially if steps that must be performed sequentially. Divide it into several shorter sections if it is too long.

SOP Examples

Here are some examples of SOP;

1. Some examples of chemicals and processes that require SOPs at MSU;

2. Hazardous chemicals SOP in UNC – Source

How To Write A Standard Operating Procedure

There is no official standard operating procedure document that will teach you how to write an SOP. But there are some steps you can follow that will help you to organize your thoughts and plan the most effective path to standardizing your procedures.

Begin with the end in mind

Define your goal at the beginning. For example, if you are writing a document that describes the procedures for product release, the goal is to release a product that meets customers requirements and portrays organizations best practice.

All organizations have processes and procedures that are repeated daily, weekly, and monthly. As you define your goals, ask whether an SOP document is needed for that particular goal. Or, see if an SOP has already been created to accomplish the goal and maybe you just need to review it and looks for ways to improve it.

When you know what you want your SOP to accomplish, it’s much easier to write an outline and define the details.

READ ALSO: What is a Safety Corridor

Choose a format to use

If your company already has some SOP documents that have been written for other procedures in the past. You can simply refer to those documents as templates for preferred formatting guidelines.

If you do not have any documents to use as a reference, here are options available for you:

  • A simple steps format: Use this format for routine procedures that are short and easy to follow. In addition to safety guidelines and other mandatory documentation, this type of format is generally a simple numbered or bulleted list with short, simple sentences that are clear and easy for the reader to follow.
  • A hierarchical steps format: If your procedures have a lot of steps that involve some decisions, you may want to use the hierarchical steps format. This is usually a bulleted or numbered list of main steps followed by a set of specific substeps.
  • A flowchart format: You may want to use a flowchart to map out and plan procedures that include many possible outcomes. This is a good choice when the results are not always predictable.

Get inputs:

Get the team together and ask them how they think the job should be performed. These are the people who you are going to ask to adhere to the SOP, so you want to be sure that it makes sense to them and that all the necessary tasks are included.

Define the scope of the SOP

It is possible that the SOP you are working on is dependent on other SOPs and teams in other departments in order to be completed successfully. Determine whether it is sufficient to reference those other procedures or if you need to add them to the current standard operating procedure document.

Identify your audience

Knowing your audience helps you determine how you should write your SOP document. Consider these questions:

  • What is their prior knowledge? You need to write to your audience’s knowledge level, keep it down too much or make it too complicated, and you’ll lose them.
  • What are their language skills? Maybe your audience does not natively speak your language. If that is the case, you may want to use more pictures than words.
  • Are they new employees? When bringing on new employees, your SOP documents need to be very detailed and training-oriented. You want to ensure consistent outcomes regardless of who is performing a task.
  • What is the size of your audience? Will multiple people in different roles across multiple organizations be reading the document? If so, you may want to write the procedures in a way that clearly defines who, or what role, performs each task. This helps your audience understand where they each fit into the process and why their particular part is important.

Write the SOP

Write a draft of your standard operating procedure and consider including some of the following elements:

  • Title page

This page can include:

  1. The title of the procedure
  2. An SOP identification number
  3. A publication date or revision date
  4. The name of the role, organization, division, or agency that the SOP applies to
  5. Names and signatures of those who prepared and approved the procedures outlined in the SOP
  • Table of contents
  • The specific procedures

Review, test, edit, repeat

After you have written your standard operating procedure document:

  1. Send a draft of the SOP to team members for review. Have them note grammatical and technical errors.
  2. Test the document yourself to ensure that you achieve the desired outcome.
  3. Have other team members test the procedures to ensure that the language is clear, can be easily followed, and can be completed successfully.
  4. Incorporate relevant edits and suggestions to improve the document.
  5. Repeat these steps until the document is approved and accepted by all stakeholders.
  6. Implement the SOP. Make it easily accessible to those who need it to do their jobs.

You should review the SOP every six to twelve months or as necessary to identify areas where it can be improved and to reflect any changes that have been made to current procedures.

READ ALSO: Safety Checklist Definition; Importance, Types & Samples

16 Step By Step Guide To Write A Standard Operating Procedure By Process.st

  1. Understand how you will present your SOPs. This step is about choosing your template to fit the needs of the process. In certain industries you will have requirements which you need to adhere to. The layout of your SOPs will be influenced by the kind of information you need to display. Investigate which international standards apply to your business operations.
  2. Gather the relevant stakeholders. To properly map the processes in use within the company, you need to have relevant members of the company present. These standard operating procedures must reflect reality so that they can be adapted and optimized to improve reality.
  3. Work out your purpose. Are you documenting your standard operating procedures in order to adhere to industry standards? Or are you confident your operations already adhere, you just need to document them? Are you doing this out of a general process optimization push? Knowing the answers to questions like these will help you prioritize your approach.
  4. Determine the structure of your SOP. There are different forms an SOP document can take. Before beginning one, understand whether this is to be a manual, a mini-manual, or a procedure document. The larger your company, the more likely it is you’ll be creating an incredibly in-depth manual.
  5. Prepare the scope of the procedure. If you’re mapping only one procedure within the document you are working on then you need to understand exactly where the procedure starts and where it finishes. It is important to clearly define the scope in order to reduce overlap with other procedure documents. Not doing so would lead to inefficiencies.
  6. Use a consistent style. This is more writing advice, but you need to think about the purpose of the document to understand how it should be written. If this is a document used solely for demonstrating to the industry that you have documented SOPs, then maybe the language will be technical and trite. However, if workers are going to be using this document as a reference point, then you’ll need to make the language clear and actionable.
  7. Use correct notation, if applicable. There may well be standardized forms of conveying processes within your company, but if not you could begin to implement them. Business process model and notation (BPMN) provides a universal way to explain processes in a concise visual style.
  8. Work through all the necessary steps of the process. Assess the process from start to finish and note down each task required along the way to complete the process. This can be done in the form of a bullet point list with pen and paper or a note-taking app.
  9. Try to assess potential problems in the process. If you’re looking to improve your process as you work through your documentation, now is a good opportunity to do so. Assess the basic steps you have recorded and ask if anything else could be added or removed. If something were to go wrong in the process, where would it occur? Where does it currently occur in real life?
  10. Determine metrics against which SOPs can be judged. This is a great opportunity to make your standard operating procedures actionable and to find a way of assessing their positive impact. What metrics you choose to use will depend on the process you’re documenting. The key metrics may be related to performance or speed or a formula utilizing both of those variables.
  11. Test the process. To make sure the standard operating procedures you have documented are the most effective, test the process with the employees who undertake those tasks on a day to day basis. Make sure they are able to give feedback on the procedures presented so that you can make alterations to the process, procedures, or simply the document style before submission.
  12. Send the process to superiors. Submit your process for review by your line manager. Alternatively, if you do not have a line manager, find a colleague whose feedback you value and send the SOP document to them before declaring it to be complete.
  13. Clarify the method of optimizing the process. A standard operating procedure document should track its own revisions over time. However, it is useful to have a general system in place to govern these revisions and how and when they occur. Creating a process for process optimization is an effective means of delivering this iterative change.
  14. Run a risk assessment on the process. A process involves people or data or something somewhere which can be hurt, damaged, or lost. Make sure to run a risk assessment on your processes to make sure you’re not opening up your company’s risk exposure.
  15. Consider creating a flow diagram. A visual aid to help other people understand the overview of the process will prove useful for people both assessing and following the process presented in the standard operating procedures. Including one increases the user-friendly level of the document.
  16. Finalize and implement the SOPs. Once all participants and stakeholders have signed off on the document and people have agreed to its use, implement the standard operating procedure document for the necessary process and file the document appropriately.


READ ALSO: What is Safety Audit – Safety Audit Procedure


SOP Templates

See SOP templates below which serves as a guide for developing any specific SOP.



What Is A Standard Operating Procedure Manual

An SOP Manual brings together all the individual SOPs and makes sure they are consistent. It eliminates contradictory procedures and ensures that all SOPs comply with laws, regulations, and industry best practices.

When standard operating procedures are compiled into an SOP manual, it gives a broader picture of how things should run for the organization to meet its goals, provide quality service, and operate efficiently.

It creates consistency in practices across the organization and improves productivity.

An SOP manual is also tremendously helpful in training new staff and maintaining continuity. It standardizes practices so things can keep running smoothly even if an important employee leaves.