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DrillSafe Articles

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

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