Policies and Procedural Practices

Good Transport Operations Management must involve safe practices in the workplace and must be governed by a set of Procedures to ensure that guidance is given in a manner that avoids risk or injury to the workforce. Procedures are in essence a set of rules or step by step instructions, which if written sensibly, clearly and without deviating from the subject matter in question should result in a system which is universal and understood by all. 

Procedures are not a one-off component that once written sees the end of your managerial responsibility to your staff, they are no different to Risk Assessments and should be considered as such, being revisited and reviewed frequently to ensure that they are fully functional at all times. It is also imperative that your staff understand them and are suitably trained in the content of each procedural practice in the best interests of all. 

What follows is an overview of Procedural Practice, which is not exhaustive in its content, but gives a foundation from which to work and build. 

Good Procedural Practice 

Every organisation needs procedures because of the Human factor. The risk will never be eliminated from the workplace because of the very nature of the things we do, but with a common set of rules (or guidelines) that are understood by all, we can go a long way to eliminating much of the risk element that we all face. It is therefore imperative that good procedure design is important and that the procedures we write are sensible in their content and designed for the task in question. 

Procedures are agreed on safe ways of doing things and usually consist of written procedures with step-by-step instructions and related information needed to help carry out tasks safely. They may include checklists, decision aids, diagrams, flow-charts and many other types of job aids. 

Although procedures are essentially a method of minimising accidents and controlling risks, there will invariably be problems associated with them. Usually, those problems stem from the inadequate management of the procedure(s) in question, and there are many incidents where management failings have contributed to major disasters. The main causes are too much reliance placed on procedures to control risk, a failure to follow safe working procedures or the use of inadequate procedures. 

The Key principles in procedure design should start with a 'Procedure for Managing Procedures'. This should include such things as deciding which tasks need procedures, how these should be best developed, written, reviewed and updated. In the same way that you'd compile your risk assessments, write your procedures in a manner that everyone can understand in clear concise terms. 

Remember, a procedure should be fit for purpose and whereas procedures should be universally understood, they should not be written in a universal format. Analyse the task prior to writing the content. Involve those to whom the procedure will affect, it’s likely the task user may understand the task (due to everyday use) better than you. 

Remove the possibility of the violation, this is where procedures are ignored/not followed, and finally, consider the links between procedures and competency - they are two sides of the same coin and should support each other. 

Writing procedures 

Writing good procedures doesn't have to be a long-drawn-out affair. Writing too much is likely to make the procedure redundant insomuch as that the reader will become less likely to take in the salient points and retain the basic structure of the same. When writing procedures, involve the staff members who will be doing the job in question and ask for their input. The reasons for doing so are as follows:

  • They will have a more realistic view of what is possible in the job. 
  • Due to their carrying out the function, it is likely they can advise on the amount of detail needed without losing impact. 
  • They will be able to stress certain points which will dictate wording and style. 
  • They can advise on how and why people might break with a procedure (not use it, make a genuine mistake or do the job a different way). 

By involving the people who do the work in the early stage of developing any procedure and involving them in writing it, you are giving them due respect, making them feel that the procedure is their work and not wholly a management tool, which will invariably result in their following the procedure properly. Your role in situations such as this will be to give your staff guidance on matters such as risk assessment and hazard recognition and if you decide it should be for them to fully write up the procedure to be used, guidance from you in layout, wording language etc. will be crucial. Consider an example such as this to be a joint effort, the boundary between you removed. 

On a final point here, act out the procedure upon completion to enable its fine-tuning and understanding by all. A good example to use here is the Daily Walk Round Check or 'First Use Inspection'. 

Procedures checklist 

All procedures should have a checklist to ensure they meet the requirements of the procedures in question, these may be as follows:

  • Procedures are easy to find when needed. 
  • Are completely up to date. 
  • Laid out in logical steps. 
  • Clear and easy to read. 
  • Are accurate - describe how the task/job is dealt with. 
  • Areas, where specific care is required, are highlighted. 
  • Describe all items of special equipment (tools, clothing) required for each job. 
  • Used as part of induction and ongoing training. 
  • Laminated (where possible) to ensure they can be used in all weather conditions. 
  • Updated immediately the task/job changes. 
  • Procedures are consistent with verbal instruction. 

Understanding Procedures 

If you find that a procedure is incorrect, it usually means there is something wrong with the system that produced it, and this could be for a number of reasons. It may be that the task has changed because of the introduction of a newer piece of 'kit'; the procedure(s) have not been reviewed and updated; there has been a change in management; or the procedure was written incorrectly in the first place, not acted out, checked and amended. 

There should be a formal system in place to develop and maintain procedures and this can be divided into 2 stages. Stage 1 should be the analysis of the procedural practices, with Stage 2 being the use of the Procedures by way of training to ensure they function as intended and fully fit the need task/job(s) for which they were written as follows. 

Stage 1 

  • Use 'task analysis' to help you fully understand how the job should be done. Task analysis can be used when you devise a new task or to analyse an existing task. 
  • Base the task analysis on how the job is actually done (or could realistically be done if it's a new task), not on how managers feel it should be done. 
  • Identify hazards that could arise in the task: hazards that the person doing the job could cause as well as hazards that they could be exposed to. 
  • Decide if a procedure is the best way of controlling the hazard, if it is, write the procedure. 

Stage 2 

  • Train people in procedures: use the training to make them familiar with the content of the procedure but also to test the procedure itself - it may contain errors or may not be practical. 
  • Ensure procedures are suitable for contractors who, for example, may not be familiar with local terminology or work practices and may have come from a different working culture. 
  • Ensure that when someone needs a procedure, they can find it quickly and easily. 
  • Novices may need a different type of procedure compared with 'experienced' personnel, but, for hazardous and rare tasks, even 'experienced' personnel should be required to use a procedure. 

Managing Procedures 

Never become complacent, procedures require management, should be reviewed, updated (where necessary) and checked, preferably by walking through the procedure and especially before using the same as part of any training program. Points to consider here are as follows; 

  • Check that procedures are being used properly (e.g. if there are steps that need to be 'ticked off', make sure this is done when the step is completed not in bulk when a number of steps are complete). 
  • Get feedback from operators on any problems - make sure there's a system for reporting problems, such as the use of a defect sheet. 
  • Deal with the problem(s) as quickly as possible. If it is a truck maintenance issue, your Operators license could be at risk. 
  • If people are not using procedures, find out why. They may have discovered a better method of doing the work; on the other hand, their new method may be risky. Make sure there is a system for considering new methods. 
  • Plan for any changes in the task (changes in equipment or materials used or changes in methods) - start to change the procedures well before they are needed and issue them for training or familiarisation before they are first used. 
  • You may need temporary arrangements if it is not possible to update a procedure quickly - extra supervision or temporary working instructions. 
  • Control your procedures: 
  • Date them. 
  • Keep a log of who holds a copy and retrieve and dispose of out of date copies. 
  • Discourage the making and use of unofficial copies. 
  • Review procedures periodically to see if they need to be updated. 

If the system you have for managing procedures is not working, be prepared to change it. 

The following should assist in giving guidance and further information, please use the links below. 

The road haulage and distribution industry – overview 

Various Downloadable Guides – RHA (Excellent Resource)