Safety 101 - Lesson 14

Standard Operating Procedures/Standard Operating Guidelines are a fundamental safety practice, nor only for emergency services, but business and industry as well.In today's society it is essential that all emergency service organizations develop, adopt...


Standard Operating Procedures/Standard Operating Guidelines are a fundamental safety practice, nor only for emergency services, but business and industry as well.

In today's society it is essential that all emergency service organizations develop, adopt, and implement standard operating procedures and guidelines. The principal of public kindness is no longer acceptable practice. Concepts, such as sovereign immunity (individual vs. government) have been significantly limited and narrowed by the courts.

Many of the federal, state, and provincial laws allow for suits against individual leaders of emergency service organizations. Terms such as "duty of care," "breach of omission or commission," and "joint and several liability" are entering the vocabulary of emergency service personnel.

One important way to prepare for this challenge is to develop, adopt, and implement a comprehensive set of Standard Operating Procedures/Standard Operating Guidelines (SOP/SOGs.) Standard Operating Procedures/Standard Operating Guidelines are a fundamental safety practice, nor only for emergency services, but business and industry as well.

During the process of compiling SOP/SOGs, the difference between these varied documents may become blurred. For instance, often the distinction between policy and procedure do not seem so clear. Policy is different from a SOP/SOG. All procedures and guidelines are based on an over-riding policy. Policy should be viewed as the attitude, philosophy and intent of top management to the organization's personnel. It provides a framework and guidance to organization personnel in making decisions. To aid in the development of SOP/SOGs, understanding specific definitions of terms is essential.

  • Policy - A guiding principle or course of action adopted toward an objective or objectives. Policy describes the general principle that will guide behavior or a definite course or method of action to direct and determine present and future decisions.
  • Procedure - Prescribes specific ways of doing specific activities. A procedure regulates the formal steps into an action. It provides a series of steps followed in a particular order.
  • Guideline - A statement, indication, guide or outline of policy by which to determine a current or future course of action. Regulation - A rule or order prescribed by authority to regulate conduct.
  • Rule - A principle set up by authority, prescribing or directing action or forbearance.

In the evaluation of policy it is essential to obtain input from the organization's members. The following are questions that must be considered regarding policy:

  • Is it founded on sound judgment?
  • Is it reasonably attainable?
  • Is it within legal and/or regulatory boundaries?
  • Is it definite, positive, and clear?
  • Does it need further definition or explanation to those affected?
  • Is it applicable to all organizational units?
  • Is it flexible?
  • Should it be flexible?
  • Does it reflect the general thinking and enforcement philosophy of all levels of personnel?
  • Will or must it be supported by procedures, guidelines, rules, and regulations?
  • Can it be enforced?
  • Will it be enforced?

The following is a visual reference for the difference in terms. Example:

  • Policy - Go from Point "A" to Point "B".
  • Procedure - Begin at Point "A" go to Point "B" by following the prescribed directions.
  • Guideline - Begin at Point "A" go to Point "B" but does not give explicit directions as a procedure.
  • Rules and Regulations - Do not cross any line, do not backtrack.

Conducting a Needs Assessment

Whether it is the starting point or part of the process, the SOP/SOG process should include a "needs assessment". Every emergency service organization should periodically conduct a formal review of SOP/SOGs. These assessments should be conducted by a task force/committee of organizational members representing all ranks and possibly other agencies (e.g. an attorney or policy analyst from the local government). The product of this formal review results in a document to be used as a "roadmap" for developing SOP/SOGs.

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