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Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

This information describes how you and your team will use your operational systems on a daily basis. SOPs are often called the ‘bible’ for your daily operation and as such should bring consistency to the actions of your team.

SOPs tend to fall into two main categories:

  • Activity specific
  • Associated operational areas

Forms and checklists are an important tool to support your SOPs and bring them to life.

When developing your SOPs it may be useful to consider that:

  • SOPs are created by applying the systems in your safety management plan to the actual activities and tasks that make up your daily operations e.g. hazard management systems
  • Staff will often take SOPs documents with them into the field
  • SOPs will often take the form of staff handbooks or manuals and may include checklists and forms.
  • The language you use should clearly differentiate your non-negotiable “must-do” procedures from those where you permit greater degrees of judgement and initiative
  • In addition to safety information SOPs may include other operational guidance e.g. a daily run sheet
  • SOPs help direct your staff to use supporting operational systems e.g. incident reporting or hazard identification

NB:To see SOPs templates go to the 'Writing your plan' section. For guidance on activity specific detail refer to your industry’s activity safety guidelines, codes of practice and/or check with industry experts on current industry good practice.  For examples of SOPs being used by other operators see the 'Support from the field' section.

Activity Specific

Many activities now have activity safety guidelines. These provide guidance on good practice for managing hazards in a particular activity. To see these guidelines go to the Activity Safety Guidelines section. 

Headings and topic areas

Every activity you offer must have SOPs. The information covered often includes:


This sets the operational scene for the activity and usually includes:

  • Location
  • Any environmental operational parameters e.g. seasonal restrictions, weather, river levels, avalanche risks, time of day
  • Client participation criteria e.g. age, competency or health
  • Client supervision levels
  • Staff competency requirements

Pre activity

“Our SOPs are the bible; they make it really clear what we want done a certain way every time e.g. client briefings, versus where our guides should apply more judgement and initiative to their decision making e.g. assessment of client skill levels”

This is the part of your day before clients arrive. Procedures usually include:

  • Pre-activity hazard management procedures e.g. the procedures you developed in your hazard management process relevant to the pre-activity part of the day
  • Equipment required for clients, staff, activity operation, communications and emergencies
  • A staff briefing agenda that includes operational factors and reminders about the activity’s significant hazards, including hazard updates, and how they will be managed
  • Staff roles including who has overall responsibility, and who is responsible for particular safety aspects.
  • Factors determining whether the activity goes ahead e.g. weather, access or minimum client or staff numbers
  • Reminders to complete pre-activity paperwork e.g. intentions forms, client medical and contact information, waiver forms, staff hazard update sign-offs

During the activity

  • Client briefings e.g. what, when, how and who should deliver them
  • General operational information e.g. a ‘run sheet’ of the day
  • Hazard management e.g. significant hazards and the procedures to manage them
  • Quality monitoring e.g. are the safety procedures and systems being followed?
  • Incident and emergency procedures
  • Specific site information such as access, egress and communications systems coverage
  • Guidance on how to deal with variations to SOPs e.g. to what degree can a guide use judgement and initiative when changes occur

Post activity

  • ‘Activity complete’ procedure  e.g. letting the person responsible know that you have finished
  • Return  and ongoing care of equipment and vehicles
  • Debrief of clients and customer feedback
  • Completion of all record keeping responsibilities  e.g. vehicle logbooks, trip reporting forms, incident reports

Associated Operational Areas

Associated with Activity Specific SOPs are other operational areas that also justify a SOPs approach. While these will vary from operation to operation, below are two examples with their common headings and topic areas:


This is a risky part of most operations. A driving SOP will often include:


  • Route descriptions
  • Vehicle loading parameters
  • Operational restrictions such as trailers, chains, roof racks etc
  • Driver licence and/or experience requirements


  • Vehicle checks


  • Licence and log book requirements
  • Specific speed restrictions
  • Vehicle loading
  • Trailer-use procedures
  • Equipment to be carried e.g. fire extinguishers, shovels, chains, first aid kits, communication devices

Post drive

  • Vehicle cleaning and re-fuelling requirements
  • Recording of mileage and use
  • Parking and trailer storage
  • Drop off locations for keys, vehicle checklists, etc

Client Screening

This is a common office/base SOP. It will often include procedures for taking bookings and gathering information. Client screening procedures usually cover:

  • Activity specific criteria for determining client participation e.g. age and swimming ability
  • Methods for checking that clients meet participation criteria and procedures to follow if they don’t
  • Screening information required  e.g. medical information or dietary requirements
  • How client information will be gathered and (where applicable) who by
  • Client contact information required  e.g. address or emergency contact details
  • Booking and payment systems
  • Long term storage of client information

Forms and checklists

Forms and checklists can be a useful component of your SOPs. They help guide your team through procedures and help to show that your systems are being used.

Note: See 'Operators Forum' for examples of forms and checklists being used by other operators

Forms and checklists must have:

"Our SOPs were first written on wet days in the middle of winter and we still update them at quiet times when we have time to really challenge what we do and involve the team"

  • An appropriate person responsible for filling them out/using them, and (where necessary) for checking/reviewing them e.g. a lead instructor must fill out the post-activity report form, the operations manager must review it
  • Any associated time parameters clearly stated e.g. incident report forms must be completed within a certain time of the incident occurring
  • A system that ensures they are current i.e. any changes to safety systems result in updates to affected forms/checklists
  • A location that is useful and appropriate e.g. emergency response log with the back-up person or pre-trip checklists in the loading area
  • Clear guidelines for what to do with them once they are completed i.e. how long, and where they should be kept 
  • Their intended use, locations and associated staff responsibilities clearly stated in the safety management plan
  • A copy located in the appendices of the safety management plan