What is Standard Operating Procedure?

Establish a culture of safety and quality in your organization with an SOP. Learn its meaning, components, benefits, and examples. Discover how to write SOPs for your business.

Mitarbeiter führen SOP-Kontrollen mit einem Tablet durch

What is a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)?

A standard operating procedure (SOP) is a step-by-step documentation instructing how to execute a certain work procedure. It can act as a checklist that guides team members on how to carry out complex and routine work tasks effectively and safely. Having SOPs ensures that the organization stays aligned regarding standards that will help them achieve their goals and objectives.

Benefits of Implementing SOPs + Examples

There are significant benefits to incorporating an SOP into a workplace, which should encourage trainers and managers to invest the relevant time into building SOPs. Here are just 4 benefits of using an SOP in your workplace:

Improves efficiency and quality

Implementing SOPs helps prevent this scenario by standardizing all critical processes and reducing work variations. SOPs also assist with improving the Quality Management System (QMS) and can prepare the organization to pass relevant ISO certification and comply with regulatory requirements.

SOP Example: Food Manufacturing Industry

Common food manufacturing SOPs cover tasks such as handwashing, cleaning and sanitizing food contact surfaces, and proper packaging process. This applies to all the employees working in the facility to maintain food safety standards and prevent contamination of food, ingredients and packaging materials.

Facilitates employee training

SOPs complement training materials to educate workers and serve as a guide for onboarding new hires. SOPs are an effective tool to supplement classroom and supervised training as workers can follow steps at their own pace when performing their duties.

SOP Example: Pharmaceutical Industry

Common pharmaceutical SOPs cover tasks such as dispensing, sourcing medicines, and expiration date checking. SOPs help ensure that pharmacists assist in protecting the safety of patients and avoiding unintended errors in dispensing medications to patients.

Increases profitability

Following SOPs can help ensure consistent and high-quality delivery of products and services. It helps improve and maintain brand standards and customer satisfaction. This is important to ensure smooth business operations and overall profitability.

SOP Example: Hospitality Industry

Common hotel SOPs cover tasks such as general housekeeping, bedmaking, dining, and performing pest control treatments.

Ensures a healthy and safe environment

SOPs describe in detail how to safely perform work involving hazardous processes, materials, equipment, and conditions. These procedures help reinforce strict compliance with safety protocols to prevent unforeseen accidents and fatalities. Workers and auditors can use SOPs as checklists to ensure that correct work procedures are reinforced. An SOP outline can include steps and procedures that aid in achieving or maintaining compliance with various regulatory standards like ISO certifications.

SOP Example: Construction Industry

Common construction SOPs cover tasks such as toolbox talks or pre-work meetings, risk assessments, and job safety analysis. This is vital to discuss and evaluate the high-risk tasks that workers will perform and develop ways to perform these tasks safely.

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Standard Operating Procedure Examples by Industry

A significant use for SOPs is for managing Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) audits. However, as long as an organization involves critical tasks in their daily operations, SOPs will come in handy. It will ensure that those critical tasks are done safely and efficiently.

Below are the common industries where SOPs are used:

  • Manufacturing – The manufacturing industry engages in the transformation of raw materials into products. Employees need to perform numerous routine tasks in a day, some manual and some automated. To avoid product errors and injuries in the workplace, management must set manufacturing standard operating procedures to ensure safety and quality in production.
  • Food Services – The food industry’s main priority is to ensure food safety in their procedures. SOPs come in handy in restaurants and bars when handling, preparing, and serving food because they help prevent legal and regulatory problems caused by foodborne illnesses or contamination.
  • Hospitality – Businesses in the hospitality industry like hotels use SOPs to train their staff on procedures like housekeeping, food and beverage serving and preparation, catering, and more. It is also applied to other hospitality management operations to develop and deliver high-quality service to guests.

Components of an SOP

A standard operating procedure should consist of the following key components:

components of standard operating procedure

SOP Components

  • Purpose – This section defines the intent of your SOP. It includes the goals, objectives, and pain points it aims to solve.
  • Procedures – This section describes operating procedures in detail to properly guide employees into completing a task according to company standards and safety regulations. It may include clarification of terminology, health and safety warnings, troubleshooting instructions, and other necessary or additional steps to complete a task. In formulating the procedures, it is important to also choose the appropriate format (e.g., step-by-step, hierarchical, flowchart/decision tree, etc.).
  • Scope – This section describes the extent and coverage of your SOP. It outlines where the SOP will be used, the people who will be engaging with it or will be impacted, limitations, and expectations.
  • Responsibilities – This section specifies the employees or stakeholders involved in the processes stated and defines their roles and responsibilities.
  • Approval Signatures – This is usually found on the last page or cover. For accountability, your SOP should be signed off by key personnel.

4 Simple and Effective Tips for Writing Your SOP

Once you’ve understood what each of these components entails, you can use them as an outline for writing your SOP document. Below are 4 tips that can help you get started:

1. Choose the Appropriate Format

There are various formats in which you can write an SOP:

  • Step by step
    This is the most common format. As its name suggests, it provides SOPs in the form of a numbered or bulleted list. This is most suitable for processes that are straightforward and do not require much decision-making.
  • Hierarchical
    This is similar to the step-by-step format but is more detailed and provides specific instructions for each step. For example, if a procedure involves additional steps to complete, the hierarchical format breaks them down. This format is suitable for processes that require more detailed and specific instructions to complete.
  • Flowchart
    When there are multiple outcomes in a process and decision-making is required, it is best to illustrate an SOP in flowchart form. A flowchart will better guide users on what to do per outcome.

2. Follow the 5 C’s

The purpose of an SOP is to eliminate the guesswork from your organization’s procedures and ensure that everyone is following the same procedure when performing specific tasks. As such, it is important to avoid ambiguity and be specific with the instructions that you provide in the SOP. The 5 C’s ensure that SOPs are clear, concise, correct, courteous, and complete.

3. Use Visuals

There are different types of learners in your organization. Using visuals such as flowcharts, videos, or quizzes can help translate your SOPs into a much digestible format for your employees. Online learning tools allow you to transform standards and procedures into micro-lessons for easy retention.

4. Use an SOP template

Creating an SOP can sometimes be overwhelming, especially for organizations with a lot of processes involved in their daily operations. Instead of creating one from scratch, you can source for ready-built SOP templates in which all you need to do is fill out preset fields.

Create your own SOP Template

Build from scratch or choose from our collection of free, ready-to-download, and customizable templates.

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How to Write an SOP

To create an effective SOP for your business operations, follow these easy steps:

  1. Assemble your team
  2. Fine-tune the details
  3. Define success
  4. Gather information
  5. Write SOP
  6. Review SOP thoroughly
  7. See the SOP in action
  8. Reevaluate, edit, and improve
  9. Plan for implementation

Learn more about each step in this step-by-step guide.

FAQs about SOPs

SOP stands for Standard Operating Procedure. SOPs are a set of written instructions designed to help workers perform tasks safely and efficiently.

SOPs are commonly used across different industries such as manufacturing, hospitality, construction, and pharmaceutical industries. These procedures are designed for:

  • quality and compliance;
  • routine or highly repetitive activities;
  • high-risk tasks;
  • new processes or line of business; and
  • training program initiatives.

When creating an effective and comprehensive SOP, steps to consider include:

  • Set a clear objective
  • Plan the operation tasks
  • Set procedures
  • Test and revise
Jairus Andales
Article by

Jairus Andales

SafetyCulture Content Specialist
Jai Andales is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture since 2018. As a content specialist, she creates well-researched articles about health and safety topics. She is also passionate about empowering businesses to utilize technology in building a culture of safety and quality.