Tim's Blog

What makes a good work instruction?


A work instruction (operating procedure) is a document that describes current best practice for performing a particular task. A well-written work instruction is useful and staff will use it.


A poorly written work instruction will be ignored (which may lead to an incident) and also reflects poorly on management.



Here are some pointers to writing effective work instructions:


  • Remove “clutter” from the front of the work instruction; clutter is information which the user doesn’t need to read each time they do the job (eg. lists of reference documents and background information). If this information is really necessary, put it at the end of the document, out of the way. A brief “purpose” is perhaps all that is needed before getting into the instructions.


  • Create work instructions with both the “novice” and the “experienced” worker in mind. Over time, a worker will become adept at performing the tasks described in the work instruction, and will not need all the detail, but just the main points. One approach is to use two columns, one for the “bare bones” that the experienced user can use as a checklist, and the other with more detailed instructions for the novice.


  • Write a work instruction for a maximum of two roles. If written for more than two roles, the reader may become frustrated having to search for their actions amid many, increasing the chance of missing important information. Consider breaking larger work instructions (addressing several roles) into smaller, more specific work instructions.


  • Use active rather than passive voice – speak to the reader. For example, “Check the unit is not leaking” is better than “the unit must be checked for leaks”. And use short sentences because this improves understandability.


  • Standardise terminology and use plain English. For example, don’t call it a “switch” in one place and a “control” in another.


  • Important safety, quality and environmental warnings must stand out so they are not overlooked – perhaps highlight or use bold text.


  • Forms must be well-designed and request only information that will be used for some purpose. For example, a succinct well-designed hazard report form is more likely to be used that a long rambling form. Always trial forms before introducing them.


  • Finally, make work instructions easily accessible for workers, and make sure the training matches the work instruction.




Article by Tim Hamilton – Copyright 2016