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Writing your plan

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The ultimate purpose of your safety management system is to help avoid loss, injury or death. The process used to write your safety management plan (SMP) and safe operating procedures (SOPs),  and how effectively you involve your team will make a huge difference to how well it achieves this goal.

Refer to the templates page for a SMP and for forms and checklists that could be used to make up part of your SOPs. Operators have also shared sections of their SMS, for examples go to the  Operator's Forum

Note: deciding what information goes where is addressed in the 'standard operating procedures and systems' section. 

Making the Commitment

If this is your first written plan, or your existing plan needs a major re-write, it will help if you:

  • Positively approach a process that will challenge your safety systems, and may show areas that need change
  • Lead by example. Your positivity and openness will rub off on your team
  • Prioritise the writing of your plan, but don’t lose touch with your staff and daily operation
  • Be realistic about the amount of time this process will take. Plan and budget accordingly

Involving your Team

It is likely that people in your team have experience and skills different to your own. Your plan will be better if you:

  • Make sure they know the value of this process and the importance of their contribution
  • Include them from the beginning of the writing process; including deciding what your plan should cover  its style and structure
  • Recognise those individuals with particular experience and skills, and give them responsibility for relevant parts of the plan
  • Give your team time and space to provide input
  • Honour their contributions i.e. as much as possible include their contributions, but if you can’t, be sure to tell them why

Deciding What it Should Cover

Determining what your plan should cover is often one of the biggest challenges. This can be helped by using the SMP Template, checking the adventure activities audit standard and:

  • Knowing your legislative requirements - operators providing activities covered by the 'Adventure Activites Regulations 2011' are required to have an explicit drugs and alcohol policy
  • Determining the specific activities and jobs within your operation e.g. driving, guiding or food handling
  • Remembering to consider roles covered by people such as contractors, volunteers or trainees
  • Considering the different locations where you undertake your activity
  • Considering the seasons you operate e.g. winter and summer operating differences
  • Thinking ahead: what may you be doing in the future?
  • Looking at the approach taken by other operators
  • Considering the headings and sub-headings within this safety guide as the basis for your plan

Capturing the Detail

This plan is for you and your team. Too much detail will make it hard to use, too little and it will not give enough guidance to be useful. Your plan should:

  • Describe what you will typically do; if you aren’t going to do it, don’t include it!
  • Use language that works for you and your team
  • Keep things clear and simple
  • Avoid large blocks of text e.g. consider using bullet points, flow charts, photographs, videos, maps, etc
  • Clearly differentiate your non-negotiable “must-do” procedures from those where you permit greater degrees of judgement and initiative. Policy and guidelines are terms often used, but there are many ways to show this.
  • Use consistent words to describe your procedures
  • Be as consistent as possible with format and style throughout the entire document e.g. consider using a computer style guide to help you

Testing your Plan

This stage is often overlooked. It is a key part of building a useful plan and should include:

  • Testing your plan at every stage of writing – does your team understand it the way you do?
  • Ensuring that your procedures are tested before you use them with clients. Staff training is a great opportunity for this
  • Considering how your procedures will stand up to scrutiny in the event of a serious harm incident

Keeping Track/Version Control

Your plan needs to be current and accurate to be safe. In order to ensure this you should:

  • Keep track of page numbers, file name, date of current version, next review dates and version numbers. Using footers can help with this
  • Ensure that you know which is your current audited/approved version
  • Ensure only current versions are in circulation
  • Clearly show when your plan will next be reviewed – internally and externally
  • State where your Safety Plan will be kept e.g. the master on your computer and the location of any hard copies
  • Ensure you know how amendments to the plan will be made and tracked