What is a Safe Operating Procedure (SOP)?
It is a written document setting out the logical sequence of steps that must be followed to safely perform a workplace activity. The name, Safe Operating Procedure (SOP), is one of the names that may be given to a work procedure that is created and written after;
identifying and assessing the health and safety risks involved in a work activity, and then
identifying how to eliminate the risks or otherwise what reasonably practicable actions can be done to minimise those risks
Basically an SOP is the "how to do this work activity and remain safe and healthy".
A safe operating procedure is sometimes also called a safe work procedure or a safe work method statement.
Who needs SOPs in your Workplace?
1. Workers doing work activities that have risks need SOPs because;
these procedures tell them "how to do their work activities and remain safe and healthy", and
doing the work as set out in the SOP helps workers satisfy their WHS duty of care to take ‘reasonable care’ for the health and safety of themselves and others and cooperate with reasonable policy and procedures of the PCBU (WHS Act section 28)
1. The Supervisors of those workers need SOPs because they know that;
by making sure the workers they supervise follow those SOPs, they will be helping to keep those workers safe and healthy, and
it will also help to satisfy the Supervisor's WHS duty of care. (WHS Act section 28)
The Manager who manages those Supervisors needs those SOPs because they help the Managers to take reasonable care for the health and safety of workers that the Manager has overall control and responsibility for. (WHS Act section 28)
The PCBU* needs those SOPS because the PCBU has a duty to do everything reasonably practicable to;
have safe systems of work
inform, instruct, train and supervise workers to protect them from risks (WHS Act section 19)
The Officers in the workplace need those SOPs being used in the workplace because Officers have a duty to use due diligence to ensure the PCBU complies with their WHS legal duties and obligations. (WHS Act section 27)
Your Health and Safety Committee and any Health and Safety Reps (HSRs) in your workplace need SOPs because they are a stable and reliable reference point for them when they are doing workplace inspections and carrying out their vital functions of helping to make a safe and healthy workplace
Should Workers be consulted about SOPs?
Yes. They should be consulted either directly through agreed arrangements, or through their HSR or Health & Safety Committee. It makes good sense to consult Workers about work activities that affect their heath and safety but it is also a legal requirement (WHS Act section 49)
Are WorkCover Inspectors Interested in your SOPs?
WorkCover Inspectors are very interested in your SOPS.
In the event of a workplace incident an SOP is a key record to be reviewed in establishing:
what was known about the risks involved with the activity
what control measures were in place at the time of the incident
whether existing control measures failed or were insufficient
whether or not workers were trained and following established safe work practices
Without a documented safe work method, it would be very hard to demonstrate that all reasonably practicable steps had been taken to eliminate or minimise the risks of a work activity.
If a WorkCover Inspector arrives at your workplace to investigate a workplace incident they will want to see any SOP you have that is relevant to that incident.
Do you really need Safe Operating Procedures?
You probably know, or have already concluded that the answer to this question is, yes.
SOPs provide a stable reference point for all WHS duty holders on “how to do this work activity and remain safe and healthy”.
But an SOP is more than just a stable reference point and useful means of controlling workplace risks and helping WHS duty holders comply with their duty.
In workplace risk situations where it is not possible for the duty holder to eliminate the risks to health and safety then the duty holder must use risk controls to minimise the risks so far as is reasonably practicable. (WHS Regulations clause 36)
An SOP is a procedure that is in that category of risk controls that is known as an administrative control and it must be used where relevant if the risks have not been minimised by other controls you put in place. (WHS Regulation clause 5 and 36)
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