Safe Operating Procedures and Employee Training

Expanding on the Risk Assessment coverage in Article 2, Safe Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Employee Training are the backbone of SWMS and a safe workplace culture.

Note: With the current COVID-19 pandemic affecting a multitude of workers, any work cond ucted would need to comply with the Government isolation criteria at the time, and precautions added to the SWMS.

Safe Operating Procedure (SOP)

SOPs are written documents providing step by step instructions on how to safely perform a task or activity that involves some risk to health and safety. They should be developed for all specific operations and tools / equipment used in conducting the business.

SOPs are an integral part of SWMS/JSAs, and when implemented effectively, essential to ensure a safe workplace. Some basic features of SOPs and their importance in the workplace are outlined below:


  • Are undertaken on a regular basis; for tasks which may create a health and safety risk.
  • Are developed for each item of plant in your workplace and each task performed by your workers, taking into account minor differences for each site.
  • Should be specific and provide step-by-step instructions using language that is clear and easy to understand, written so a person with no experience in the job can perform the task safely without needing to refer to other sources (for example, provide photos/diagrams to improve clarity).
  • Are critical for providing a systematic and organised approach to workplace safety.
  • Help reduce the risk of illness and injury in the workplace.
  • Help comply with your general duty to protect workers and others in the workplace.
  • Increase your workers’ awareness of health and safety risks.
  • Train workers in the steps required to perform their tasks safely. The workers carrying out the procedures must be trained and licensed if required, and all training should be recorded on the Employee Training and Competency Register.
  • Improve communication between workers, their supervisors and managers.
  • Documented and signed-off SOPs and the Employee Training and Competency Register are vital to demonstrate the employer’s due diligence in protecting workers and others in the workplace. Documented evidence is an essential safeguard in the event of a reportable incident.
  • Each SOP should be prepared by an ‘assessor’, who can be anyone in the workplace competent at performing that particular task. If the work involves specialised knowledge, a technical expert should be engaged to assist in preparing the SOP.
  • The assessor has a legal obligation to consult with the workers involved in the task, and ensure a draft SOP is reviewed and approved by the whole workforce involved with the SOP.
  • Workers should be tested regularly to ensure they are competent in that procedure, and results recorded in the Employee Training and Competency Register.
  • All new workers must be instructed in the SOP as part of the induction process.


To achieve an effective SWMS/JSA all critical tasks should have a SOP referenced to cover in detail the specific hazards and control measures for each task.

  • In a landscaping or gardening business, each site may involve many varying hazards and activities required to achieve the desired result safely.
  • Each activity addressed in the site- specific SWMS must have its own risk assessment and each employee signing off the SWMS must be fully aware of the safe procedures required.
  • SOPs and SWMS should not be generic documents. Ensure all SOPs are site-specific to each workplace.
  • The site specific SWMS and the incorporated SOPs for each vital task are the essential basis for discussions at Toolbox Talks (Pre-Start Meetings), which are meetings held with workers, usually on an informal basis before work starts where the process or work procedure is explained, or safety information is conveyed. The site-specific SWMS and the incorporated SOPs for each vital task are the essential basis for discussions, and an opportunity for workers, or their HSRs, to raise site specific safety or environmental issues.
  • Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) are voluntary, elected members of the workforce with a role in raising and resolving any occupational health and safety (OHS) issues with their employer and have powers to enforce compliance with the OHS Act and OHS Regulations.

For further reading Reference:

Employee Training and Competency Register

To record formal and informal training received by all employees an employer should maintain an Employee Training and Competency Register to check that the individual is competent in particular tasks assigned during their employment. All relevant training dates, including review dates, are recorded on the register spreadsheet.

The register should be a matrix listing all employees, against their specific training history. Each individual employee should also have their personal history on personnel records, including details of all training received.

Training history details may include driving licences/categories, inductions, specific SWMS and SOPs, trade qualifications, plant operator licences, first aid, manual handling, construction induction card, asbestos safety, etc. Some examples of training requirements to satisfy a particular SOP are:

  • Traffic Management training on adherence to the Traffic Management Plan for a specific site. Observed at least as part of a site induction to obey client or self-imposed rules on awareness of potential traffic hazards.
  • Working at Heights: If the job or site requires work to be conducted at heights, each employee must have completed a Working at Heights assessment (WorkSafe).
  • Confined Spaces: If any part of the landscaping contract involves working in a confined space (as defined in OHS Act), work must be conducted strictly in accordance with a site (job) – specific Confined Spaces Entry Permit, which covers the specific nature of the hazard and control requirements.
  • Spraying Pesticides (Refer WorkSafe website) – Some pesticides require licenced operators.
  • Hazardous Manual Handling – Refer to WorkSafe Compliance Code.

Each activity listed in the SWMS involves procedures that may or may not warrant a written Safe Operating Procedure, but the awareness of each hazard and its control involved should be explicit in the SWMS. WorkSafe website is a mine of information for further details on any aspect of safety in the workplace.

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