February 24, 2022 | Susan Napier-Sewell

10 Tips for Writing Better Procedures

Are you ensuring that employees understand their place and their part in the relevance of the procedures to the company’s overall goal?

Writing better procedures is a surefire way to improve their comprehension. A prelude to writing better procedures should read something like this: “Where humans work, there will be errors.”

Every seven seconds, a worker is injured on the job, according to the National Safety Council. Nine out of 10 incidents in the workplace are attributed to human error. Writing better procedures is a surefire way to improve their comprehension.

Preventative actions such as following protocols, meeting safety requirements, and pinpointing specific hazards in the workplace are all ways to ensure that your company is doing its due diligence helping workers safely perform their jobs. But, are you ensuring that employees understand their place and their part in the relevance of the procedures to the company’s overall goal?

Compose your procedures to be task-based and crystal clear—from readability to sequencing to up-to-the-minute accuracy. Detailing procedures and stressing them company-wide are critical components of a safe, incident-free work zone. Whether you’re surveying old procedures prior to updating them or writing procedures for the first time, implement a plan for training procedure users to sync with the introduction of the new procedures. 

writing better procedures

When you write or rewrite procedures, consider that you are proactively troubleshooting human performance one step at a time

These 10 tips are based on human action and human error during interaction with workplace process and procedures. As we pinpoint the Human Performance Difficulty in each, we identify potential Safeguards that will reduce the likelihood of the incident recurring. 

  1. When you have decided that a problem is related to written procedure use, lack of a written procedure, or misuse of a written procedure. Analyze the cause of the problem to find the root cause of the procedure problem. You can then correct the root causes. If you can’t identify root causes, then perform a Safeguards Analysis to identify potential Safeguards that you could add to reduce the likelihood of this problem recurring.
  2. When a procedure is not used or not followed. Before using a procedure to correct the issue. consider using the TapRooT® Safeguards hierarchy by removing the hazard, removing the target from the hazardous situation, or guarding the person or target from the hazard.  
  3. When there is no procedure. When your analysis shows that there is no procedure to perform specific work, implementing a procedure will clarify performance of this work. 
  4. When a procedure is not available to workers or inconvenient to use. Consider recommending ways to make the procedure available and convenient at the worksite. Don’t be limited by past methods. Ideas to get the point across include posting a durable copy of the procedure at the workstation, providing field copies of the procedure, providing disposable copies of the procedure, or providing the procedure user with an electronic or audible forms of the procedure.
  5. When a procedure is difficult to use. Of course, making each procedure easier to use depends on the specific procedure, but we suggest these ideas: lower the required reading level, simplify the steps, rewrite the procedure so that it can be performed more efficiently, flowchart a procedure that contains complex decisions, change the procedure’s level of detail to make it more appropriate for the user’s skill level. Also, if the procedure is not written in the native language of the user, translate the procedure. This can be a separate procedure or a bilingual format. Consider having a third party review the content to replace written instructions with pictographs where possible. Other considerations include further training and additional work preparation for the user. Be sure to test the revised procedure to ensure that it is easier to use. 
  6. When a procedure is wrong. Continue to analyze the cause of the specific problem to ascertain how and why the procedure was wrong. You can then correct the root causes and rewrite the procedure correctly. Remember to recommend training for the procedure users about any corrections to the procedure. 
  7. When a typo is responsible for an incident. Correct the error. Notify the procedure users to the actionable correction. This may be a good time to reinforce the actions to be taken if the procedure users find mistakes, such as typos, in a procedure so that the mistakes can be corrected before an incident occurs. 
  8. When the sequence is wrong. Modify the procedure so the sequence is correct. Make it technically accurate plus optimize the procedure so that it improves the work efficiency. Consider the physical layout of the equipment and any human limitations. Notify the procedure users that the sequence has been corrected. Reinforce the actions to be taken if the procedure users find mistakes in a procedure so that the mistakes can be corrected before an incident occurs. 
  9. When a second checker should be used as part of a task and should have been included in the procedure. Recommend the use of a second checker as part of the procedure, when warranted. Be aware that a second checker is a weak Safeguard to additional mistakes. It takes great effort on the part of the second checker to not be lulled into a sense of complacency by repetitive tasks that are infrequently performed incorrectly. 
  10. When a procedure’s format is confusing. A procedure can be followed incorrectly because its format prevented the reader from easily, rapidly, and precisely understanding the procedure’s intent. Make procedures easy to read, with only one intended interpretation possible. Evaluate the procedure for its grade level, complexity, and specificity. Improve the procedure so that the format makes the procedure easy to use. Test the updated procedure in the field to ensure that a variety of users accurately and consistently use the procedure. 

Procedures and written checklists cannot be used to fix every problem

Not all problems or poorly human-factored designs can be expected to be overcome by providing detailed procedures as “workarounds.” For example, if you discover that a procedure is a substitute for a better-designed human-machine interface, consider improving the ergonomics or human factors design of the equipment rather than trying to improve the procedure.

It may help you to read Procedure Writing: Principles and Practices by Douglas Wieringa, Christopher Moore, and Valerie Barnes, published by Battelle Press.

For more information about procedure usage and writing effective procedures, join a 5-Day TapRooT® Advanced Root Cause Analysis Team Leader Training course, call us at (865) 539-2139, or view our courses at www.taproot.com/courses.

Circumstances can crop up anywhere at any time if proper and safe sequence and procedures are not planned and followed. We encourage you to learn and use the TapRooT® System to find and fix problems.

TapRooT® has a team of investigators and instructors with years of extensive training ready to offer assistance worldwide. We also offer ongoing support to our clients through free newsletters and root cause tip videos, the root cause analysis blog, and our annual Global TapRooT® Summit.

Register for one of our courses. We offer a basic 2-day course and an advanced 5-day course.  We’re here to find solutions for you.

Contact us to discuss training your employees on-site. You may also call us at 865.539.2139 to speak to an instructor, schedule an executive briefing, or book on-site training for your team.

Human Performance, Implementation
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