Standard operating procedures (SOPs)
I'm interested in views about standard operating procedures (SOPs), I work in a manufacturing environment and have been here for almost a year.
Our operational teams develop SOPs and train workers to them, which is great, but my concern is that there are too many SOPs (180 and counting) to be considered effective, we are not putting enough emphasis on the complex routine tasks and that we are using them as a way to blame people when things go wrong and they're not following the SOP.
How do others determine when an SOP is required?
The good thing is, I have raised these concerns with the rest of the Lead Team, and we are looking at ways to improve this process, hence for the question!
We have a few SOPs ("Standard" not "Safe" since following the procedure will work towards safety).. Maybe a dozen or so. Probably should have a few more - but high risk areas are covered off.
One SOP goes on one piece of paper (can be double sided if need be) but it is one sheet. No More!
English is a second language to most operators so language ("english") is kept simple.
The SOP's are also essentially the same as the work processes are broadly the same. So they just get wee work area specific tweaks (eg Safety Glasses To be Worn" v s "Welding Helmet Must be worn).
The complex routine tasks are taught by rote / memory. There might be a specific photo of something complex eg a specific wiring loom, that sits outside the SOP. QA checks are done along the way - this prevents a mistake going too far down stream.
When things go wrong, as they will,(if they don't you aren't trying hard enough) the operator gets a mistake for free. A couple of the same mistake they get some attention. Repeating the same mistake they are down the road.
I'm just wondering why someone is "down the road" for making the same mistake continuously? Have you stopped to ask "why is this mistake happening repeatedly?". What insights to the tasks can the people who do the work offer? How do you accommodate deviation from the task procedure, which may well occur? The task hazards are always present, you need to build in capacity to allow this. There's some great advice & presentations online by Todd Conklin on this topic.
In answer to question one. Because they are proving an inability to learn . And their inability to learn and change is causing problems. Broadly speaking I find "attitude" the hardest thing to change but changing skill is relatively easy - to a point. And at some point we are not a rest home for non-learners.
Question two. Yes. Again, broadly it is the inability to take instruction and apply learning. Sometimes its attitude ("I will do it my way") sometimes its retarded memory ("Oh I forgot that"), Sometimes its lack of care or respect ("i'll just do the easiest thing"). We will give a person a few chances. But not limitless.
Question three. Generally very few if they are new to the task (thus needing the SOP to train and develop). They may have different experience from different environments and these insights may add value. Or they may not.
Question four. Again broadly speaking deviation from the task procedure isn't tolerated. Tasks are timed. So a deviation that takes longer is no good. If the deviation is shorter then it will be looked at, procedure changed and time changed. The task will have a quality element to it. If the deviation affects the quality then the deviation can't be accommodated. There is also waste consideration (Time / Material) so again a negative deviation can't be accomodated.
Task hazards aren't always present. If you focus on continuous improvement and keep looking for the 1%er's you can often uncover a safer way of doing something. Sometimes you can get a 10%er, which is usually an engineering solution that requires less labour or lower skill and inherently less risk
Andrew Hale and David Borys did, what I consider very valuable research into this very topic: ‘safety rules and procedures’. I attach their papers (two of them) and my own summary of it here. The crux of it is vested in the paradigm you subscribe to:
1. Experts prescribing the way work must be performed to fallible humans; or
2. Rules set the ‘safety envelope' boundaries within which the true experts – the experienced technicians – make the rules by assessing what is in front of them and making here-and-now rules how to perform the task safely.
I subscribe to the latter!
Two conflicting views on the role of safety rules and procedures
Hale & Borys - Working to rule or working safely Part 1
Hale & Borys - Working to rule or working safely Part 2
Thankyou Paul Reneke.
I find Standard Operating Procedures are best created with worker participation, not unlike the ideal way of creating a Task Analysis (SWM, JSA or whatever acronym is current). They are best and most followed if they are frequently reviewed by the users.
The HSWA 2015 emphasises 'worker participation' for a reason. Worker participation works.
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