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DrillSafe Articles

Safety information and collaboration forum for the exploration drilling industry in Southern Africa.

Filtering by Tag: SOP

What is a standard operating procedure?

Drill Safe

By Colin Rice
Colin Rice Exploration Drilling Advisory -


The Oxford English dictionary defines a standard operating procedure (SOP) as: “A series of actions conducted in a certain order or manner”.

In a drilling sense, I suggest that we define an SOP as: 

A document that describes the safest and most efficient way in which to carry out a complex routine or non-routine procedure.


There are a few keywords in this definition which are very important: 

  • document – an SOP must be written – it cannot be verbal, 

  • safest– the main purpose of an SOP is to ensure that every hazard associated with every step is identified and that the steps in the procedure are designed to ensure that the hazard does not cause harm and,

  • complex – we only use an SOP for complicated, multi-step procedures not for simple one or two step processes.

It is very important to recognise the importance of the word “standard” in the term SOP – this means that the procedure is firm and fixed, it has been developed after a thorough investigation of the activity and therefore following the procedure to the letter is obligatory.

How DO I know what tasks require an SOP?

The requirement for an SOP to be developed will flow from the risk assessment process. The outcome of the risk assessment process, if done correctly, will be an identification of all hazardous tasks as well as ranking according to the tasks’ risk rating.
From there, the Hierarchy of Controls is applied to eliminate, minimise or control the risk.
If high level controls are not possible or practical then, an administrative control must be applied and this will involve the development of an SOP. 
An SOP could therefore be considered to be “an administrative tool designed to minimise or control risk”.

Have a look at the next article in this series called “Why are SOPs necessary?”

MORE ARTICLES IN THE Standard Operating Procedure Series

What does an SOP look like?

Drill Safe

By Colin Rice
Colin Rice Exploration Drilling Advisory -


A standard operating procedure (SOP) is essentially made up of two parts:

SOP-breakdown1 copy.png
  1. the front end: which will include detail about the purpose of the SOP, applicable legislation etc.

  2. the body: which details the tasks, the hazards and the actual steps to be followed.

The front end of the SOP must include the following detail:

  1. A clear statement of the scope of the SOP – this will then clearly define the title or name of the SOP.

  2. A unique identification number for version control.

  3. A reference to all applicable legislation that stipulates why the SOP is necessary.

  4. A clear explanation of any definitions that are used in the body of the SOP.

  5. An explanation of any abbreviations that are used in the body of the SOP.

  6. A clear statement of what special tools and / or PPE are required in carrying out the procedure.

The body of the SOP is the most important part and it will detail the steps to be taken, the hazards associated with each step and the safe work procedure to be followed so that the hazard does not cause harm.

Are you ready to develop SOPs for your business? Read the next article, “What are the steps in developing an SOP?”


What are the steps in developing an SOP?

Drill Safe

By Colin Rice
Colin Rice Exploration Drilling Advisory -

beware-of-slippery-steps-ww-22 copy.jpg

Step 1: The very first step is to clearly define the scope of the SOP, for example; “Tripping the drillstring using the main hoist on an Atlas Copco CS14 drill rig” or “Tripping the drillstring using the main hoist on a Sandvik DE710 drill rig”. 

We cannot have one SOP that is good for all drill rigs – this is a common mistake that is made – drill rigs differ and no matter how small the differences – each variant of drill rig must have their own SOP.

If the contractor runs 12 drill rigs that are absolutely identical then the same SOP is acceptable for all 12 but if one has a modified hoist control system for example, then that drill rig must have a separate and identifiable SOP that relates to that drill rig. Obviously, much of the SOPs will be identical but the differences in the steps must be clear. 

Step 2: Add the rest of the “front end” detail. Have a look at our previous article on how an SOP is designed, to get an idea of the other front end details that should be included in your SOP.

Step 3: Once the front end of the SOP has been developed, the body needs to be compiled in detail. In order to do this, you must:

  1. identify the individual steps that have to be completed in order to complete the procedure,

  2. identify the hazards associated with each of the steps (this is critically important) and then, 

  3. decide how to carry out the steps in the safest way, i.e. so that the hazards do not cause harm – sometimes this is called the safe work procedure.

This all seems pretty straight forward, but it is in fact quite difficult to develop a really good SOP. Here are some simple rules that will help to ensure a good quality document:

  1. Get the right team together. It should be pretty clear now that, more than one person is required to properly develop an SOP – you need to gather a group of people who have intimate knowledge of the procedure and who have the ability to identify every step in the procedure and the hazards associated with each step. If you have the right team, you stand a good chance of developing a good SOP. 

  2. Remember who the SOP is being written for. It is being written for a driller or a drill rig assistant / helper / offsider etc. It is not being written for the engineer or geologist or safety officer. You must therefore carefully consider language, ability to read, numeracy ability etc. Sometimes the use of pictures helps in understanding the steps and the hazards and so the use of pictures must be encouraged. 

    It follows that an SOP written for an English speaking Australian will not be suitable for a Xhosa speaking South African!

  3. Do not reference other SOPs or legislation in the body of the SOP. This tends to cause confusion and will make the procedure very difficult to follow.

  4. Avoid adding attachments or forms to the SOP, again, this will complicate the procedure.

Once an SOP has been developed, it must be revised and updated as new equipment or improved processes are implemented, an SOP is a living document and it must never be filed away and forgotten about.

Read the next article in this series about the common mistakes with SOPs.

MORE ARTICLES IN THE Standard operating procedure series

Frequent mistakes with SOPs

Drill Safe

By Colin Rice
Colin Rice Exploration Drilling Advisory -


Over many years of doing safety audits on drilling operations, I frequently come across the same mistakes on site - missing SOPs.
The risk assessment tells us when we need to develop an SOP and if the risk assessment is poor then not all hazardous activities will be identified and so we will miss some SOPs. 

Here are some examples from my experience…

Example 1: Wireline cable


We all know that wireline cable sometimes snaps and in some cases, the loose end of the cable will come off the sheave (pulley) at the top of the mast. Before we can splice or join the two broken ends of the wireline cable it is necessary that the cable is respooled over the sheave. 

When I ask a driller or supervisor how they respool the cable most will immediately say that they lower the mast so that the sheave is at a lower height – they are forbidden to climb the mast and so the obvious answer must be that they will lower the mast. I then ask them how they do that when the drillstring is in the rod clamp and then they realise that they have talked themselves into a corner! 

Sometimes they will then explain that they partially back a drill rod connection off and then lower the rods into the borehole and then fully back the connection off – effectively they leave the drillstring in the open hole. The more they explain their procedure the more holes can be poked through it because they have never in fact done what they say they do!

What really happens is that a member of the crew will climb up the mast and respool the cable. The crew will only do this when there is no danger of a safety officer being in the vicinity and so the principle of “ignorance is bliss” applies.

My argument is this: we all know that the wireline cable sometimes snaps and that it is sometimes necessary to respool it so, let us recognise that this is a hazardous operation and let us develop a really good procedure that ensures that all hazards are identified and controlled. The point is that this “dangerous” procedure must be disclosed to the mining company it must not be hidden or ignored.

Example 2: Overtight joints

Another example of a missing procedure that I frequently come across is “how to back-off an overtight joint”. Again, we all know that, for a number of reasons, a drill rod joint may become over-torqued while drilling and the only way that you can back-off a joint is to apply a greater torque in the opposite direction. 

If the rod clamp and chuck cannot do the job, then the only other way is to use a wrench (Stilson or a rod wrench) and in extreme cases we use a cheater bar to create a mechanical advantage. For many mining companies the use of wrenches is forbidden and so how is the contractor going to back off the joint? Again, the driller will wait until there are no safety people around and he will use a wrench and cheater bar to back the joint off.  

My argument is the same as in the previous example – we know that joints sometimes get over-torqued and we also know that there is only one way to back-off an over-torqued joint so let’s sit down and write a good, well structured procedure that addresses all of the risks involved.

To me this indicates a mature attitude to drill site safety – if we know what the risk is – we can manage it. If we don’t know what the risk is, it will bite us!! 

SOPs are the most fundamental building block of a sound safety management system and they present primary evidence of the quality and maturity of a safety management system. 

I believe that poor quality or missing SOPs indicates that the quality of the risk assessment was poor and so the drill will be operating with unidentified risk. It indicates that senior management have done a less than perfect job in designing and maintaining their safety management system.

It is important to recognise that it is a concern if an SOP is not in place but it may be infringement of the law if one is in place but it is not followed!

MORE ARTICLES IN THE Standard operating procedure series