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DrillSafe Articles

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

Why are standard operating procedures necessary?

Drill Safe

By Colin Rice
Colin Rice Exploration Drilling Advisory -


I can hear many people muttering that all these standard operating procedures (SOPs) are just making more work for the already overworked contractors and they are not necessary – “our guys know what to do”.

Maybe the guys do know what to do but I guarantee that there will be significant variability in the way that they carry out certain activities.

Which of the two or three or four “methods” is the best? Which is the safest and most efficient?

All of the methods cannot be the safest and most efficient so, it is necessary to drill deeply into the activity and decide on the best set of tasks to ensure that the activity is safely and efficiently completed.

Notwithstanding the above, sometimes there is a legal requirement to develop procedures.  Numerous pieces of statutory law make it mandatory to develop procedures to control certain risks.

For example, the word “procedure” appears 113 times in the South African Mine Health and Safety Act, 16 times in the Botswana Mines, Quarries, Works and Machinery Regulations and 54 times in the Namibian Regulations relating to the Health and Safety of Employees at Work. In every case, the word is used to describe a requirement to for work to be done according to a well defined set of procedures.

The following extract is from the Section 10 (2) of the Mine Health and Safety Act is an example of this: 

As far as reasonably practicable, every employer must ensure that every employee is properly trained-

(c) in the procedures to be followed to perform that employee's work; and

(d) in relevant emergency procedures.


Development of good, effective SOPs is difficult and the process can take a long time, however, they are an incredibly important tool for the contractor and the mining company. A well developed SOP:

  • may help to reduce the contractor’s (and the mine’s) liability in the event of an accident.

  • is perfect “teaching material”. They ensure consistency of the quality of training when training new staff. SOPs form the basis of a planned task observation (PTO) and so can also be used as an assessment tool.

  • gives the contractor a tool to incrementally develop staff – some tasks are more difficult than others and so they can be used to plan the development of new staff.

It is important to recognise that a complete set of well-developed SOPs is a primary indicator of the quality of the contractor’s safety management system. A contractor who has taken the time to properly develop SOPs is likely to have a good, rigorous safety management system, but one who has not, will definitely not have a good safety management system.

The bottom line is that SOPs are a part of our life in the drilling industry and so, if we have to develop them, we may as well do it properly!

Interested in putting together SOPs for your business? Take a look at the next article, “How is an SOP designed?”