What Is an SOP?
A Standard Operating Procedure, or SOP, is a step-by-step guide in which companies establish a standardized approach to their operations (usually in critical areas), such as how they develop products or provide services. It acts as an assistance tool to troubleshoot problems commonly encountered in a specific task.
They are often written prior to the onboarding process, so employees have a reference tool after their training is completed. A well-written guide can reduce the amount of time it takes for new hires to learn how to complete a task successfully, and frees up employees that would otherwise be answering questions to continue to perform their assigned duties.
But they are also used in high-risk industries where dangerous work conditions necessitate the need for documentation and uniform procedures to prevent lawsuits. If activities are determined to pose environmental, health, and safety hazards, then companies should create SOP templates. This allows them to record specific steps to reduce the hazard in their operations and ensure the safe reproducibility and standardization of processes in manufacturing.
This article covers the topics:
When Is an SOP Necessary?
In principle, every work process should be documented. However, in these five cases you should definitely make use of SOP’s:
- New processes
- The on-boarding of new employees
- General training courses
- Tasks on risky areas
- Routinary work
Why Is an SOP useful? — Top 3 Advantages
Planning is half the battle – this statement is the base of the SOP principle. With the help of standard operating procedures, you can design a high-quality, safe, and profitable company with comparatively little effort.
In the following paragraph you will find 3 essential advantages for the implementation of SOPs:
1. Quality Assurance
A corporate concept is particularly convincing when it is structurally sophisticated and is characterized by consistent and sustainable quality. In this context, the quality manager plays an important role. In order to meet customer expectations, work processes should always be carried out in the same way to ensure a satisfactory product and to safeguard the company’s reputation.
2. Safety of Employees
The SOP makes a considerable contribution to the security policy in the company. Employees should be informed about hazards and risks and be trained to deal with them properly. With a detailed guideline, which breaks down all possible questions, you inform and train your employees for the correct execution of work processes.
The standardization of work processes leads to fewer work-related failures and to continuous quality. This also creates satisfaction on the part of the customers, which enables the highest possible profitability to be ensured.
4 Tips to Help You Write an SOP
An SOP is a comprehensible guide for action steps during a work process. With the following 4 steps you can start directly with your instruction:
- Define the work process — you should limit yourself to a concrete task that starts with an initial state and fulfills a relevant goal at the end.
- Simple & clear — The steps should be as simple and comprehensible as possible, yet leave no questions or important details unanswered.
- Focus on safety — In addition to the standardization of a uniform quality policy, the safety of employees during their work is a decisive focus. Therefore, any hazards and risks should be identified and how they can be prevented in concrete terms. The occupational safety specialist plays an important role in the implementation.
- Writing by doing — A realistic work instruction is best written when the concrete steps are actually being carried out or tested instead of being called up from memory.
What Is an SOP template Used for?
A good SOP pattern helps any employee — no matter how experienced — perform individual steps. It is precise as well as easy to understand. So that employees can always look for details about a procedure, or precise sequences of steps, the checklist should be carefully created. As a reminder, SOP templates create measurable processes that provide structured instructions in case of problems or even emergencies.
With strict compliance requirements in quality and safety management, these forms help standardize operational activities, ensuring consistency, quality, and safety. They also provide a way to make processes measurable and record any deviations. The records, in turn, are helpful in implementing corrective actions.
How to write an effective SOP template
SOP templates act as a simple how-to guide and come in different forms depending on the purpose, industry, and target group. They can range from process instructions to checklists and flowcharts. However, they should all focus on the following three core areas to create an effective general SOP form:
This area provides a clear objective of what needs to be achieved and why the SOP is important. In the interest of continuity, a continuation of the above example—how to transfer a patient with a gait belt safely—will be employed. In this core area, the following questions are to be answered:
- “What is the target process?”
The purpose of standardizing the step-by-step transfer procedure aims to reduce patient injury by ensuring that each healthcare worker receives the same training.
- “What needs to be changed in this process?”
A gait belt needs to be used every time a staff member makes a patient assist. The change being initiated here is reinforcing the fact that the gait belt is not optional when performing patient transfers. If the healthcare staff grab patients under the armpits instead of distributing the pressure over a larger area (ie. the waist), it can cause bruising and discomfort. When healthcare personnel neglect to use a gait belt, it can increase the risk of sustaining injuries due to accidental drops and falls.
- “Why write an SOP checklist for this process?”
By standardizing the patient transfer process, common accidents that result in injury such as dropping a patient can be avoided. Outlining the successive steps in a checklist will remind personnel of any missed procedures they might have forgotten but is critical to maintaining patient safety. In addition, a written guide can be given to healthcare providers to study and perfect while in the workplace or at home.
A clearly formulated purpose is to help employees understand why they should follow relevant SOP procedures and not just perform processes for the sake of the process.
Additional example (housekeeping in the office):
The following aims to outline the domestic services and to ensure that the workplaces are free of dirt and disorder. This is critical to maintaining a safe working environment and avoiding minor or major incidents. Check out the housekeeping checklist template we created for you.
This section describes which specific tasks are covered for the target group.
This should refer to the persons who should adhere to the SOP and list the relevant tasks and responsibilities covered by the SOP:
- All healthcare professionals who assist with patient transfers
- Safely transfer the patient from one chair to the next
- Make the patient feel safe and comfortable during the assist
- Use a gait belt for every patient transfer regardless of size and mobility
It may also be helpful to explain what does not fall within the scope of this particular SOP format and to refer to other documents that are introduced in other tasks:
- This does not include patients who are able-bodied
- Personnel who are not trained in patient transfers should never attempt an assist alone or otherwise
Additional example (housekeeping in the office):
The following is intended to assist facility management personnel in the coverage of the following tasks:
- Window cleaning
- Carpet care
- Waste management
This format does not apply to the identification of damage to equipment and repair work. Further information on these tasks can be found in the SOP incident report.
This report shall contain a list of detailed steps to be taken to ensure the effective accomplishment of the tasks referred to. The procedural steps should be written down in an orderly, concise, and easily understandable SOP format. All steps should be followed by the staff.
See above section: An Example of a Completed SOP Checklist.
What Is the Basic Structure of a SOP Checklist?
With the example of a standard operating procedure checklist out of the way, it’s time to start learning how to organize, craft, and write your own. But how do you structure one? Below, you’ll find the six steps to formatting your own SOP manual.
The title page shall contain the full title, number, version number or date of approval, name and signature of the author, name and signature of the person authorizing the format, and the date of signature.
Table of contents
Enter the page numbers and the total number of pages in the standard operating procedure. This will help employees more easily navigate the instruction manual.
The purpose defines the objectives and scope of the standard operating procedure. You can outline the purpose for each individual procedure included in the manual.
The procedure provides clear and mandatory descriptions of the individual process steps. This will comprise the bulk of the book as it will include the step-by-step breakdown of the task.
The quality assurance specifies the criteria for the inspection or control of the described product/service, system or process.
All associated SOPs of operations used in this manual, including any additional information that might be helpful as well as any citations for further reading for interested parties, should be inserted here.
An Example of a Completed SOP Checklist
It can be helpful to see an example before creating your own standardized operating procedure checklist. Keep in mind that this document needs to be detailed to the point it borders on redundant. No detail is too small. This document needs to be thorough enough that someone who has never done the task before can do it as well as an expert.
For the sake of simplicity, this example will cover the basics of a patient transfer procedure that is common in a healthcare setting.
The following will describe how to transfer a patient safely and comfortably with the aim to reduce injuries resulting from improperly conducting related procedures.
This is for all healthcare professionals whose job tasks require them to transfer patients from one setting to another. These settings include transfers to or from a chair, shower, toilet, wheelchair, etc.
Procedure for Patient Transfer:
Did you wash your hands?
Communicate to your patient what you are going to do and acquire permission
Fasten the belt around the patient’s waist when they are in an upright position
If that’s not possible, then fasten the belt around the patient’s waist while they are lying down (this will require a two-person assist)
Is the belt tight enough that it won’t ride up during the transfer, but loose enough that it’s not pinching the skin?
Get verbal confirmation that the patient is comfortable and not experiencing any dizziness
Double check to make sure the breaks on the chairs or bed the patient is being transferred to and from are both locked
Is the patient wearing shoes?
Stand in front of the patient with your back straight, knees slightly bent, and feet set wide apart
Grab the belt with both hands and with the fingers hooking underneath the strap
If allowed, ask the patient to help by pushing up to a standing position and bearing weight
Gently guide the patient to their designated seating area as quickly and safely as possible
Once seated comfortably, remove the belt
Full name and signature of healthcare worker
How To Implement an SOP? — 4 Tips
1. TIP: Communicate the Reason for Use
An SOP serves the well-being of the employees as well as the company. It is crucial not only to implement it as a mandatory requirement but also to make employees aware that it should be seen as a help and support for the staff.
2. TIP: Make the SOP Accessible to All
The SOP should not only be accessible to all personnel everywhere and at all times but should also be actually read and used. In some cases, it is even mandatory by law to take note of the work instruction and must be documented by employees.
3. TIP: Leave No Questions Open
For training, which should introduce the SOP’s, it should be possible to ask questions. The personnel should know whom they can contact at any time in case of queries.
4. TIP: Control
Despite the personal responsibility of employees, it is essential to regularly check the correct execution of activities and to warn punctual violations or to react to repeated ones with a termination.
Why Does a Mobile App Like Lumiform Help With SOPs?
With Lumiform’s mobile app you can easily perform any type of quality and safety inspection using a tablet or smartphone – online or offline. With the desktop software, you can create checklists and effectively evaluate the data collected in the field. This significantly reduces the risk of quality losses, industrial accidents, documentation errors, and damage to your reputation.
An effective digital SOP tool like Lumiform’s should be easy for staff to use while giving managers and trainers full transparency of what is happening in the field. In addition, an effective digital tool gives the ability to react to deviations at lightning speed and solve incidents within the team.
- The flexible form builder helps you to convert any individual standard operating procedure format into a digital format within minutes.
- Lumiform offers via 12,000 ready-made templates, so that you can quickly and safely go digital.
- With the super intuitive mobile app you can perform any SOP example with ease and save time.
- Solve issues collaboratively with your teammates.
- All standard operating procedure results are automatically summarised in an SOP report and can be sent to stakeholders on-the-fly.
- Compreheensive analyses help you to uncover inefficient areas in your company faster and thus to improve SOP processes continuously.