How important are Safe Work Method Statements in managing risk in the workplace, and what should HR professionals know about them?
We have all heard the phrase “recipe
for disaster”, but what would the
opposite recipe be? As a safety
professional when was the last time you wrote
a recipe? A Safe Work Method Statement
(SWMS) is exactly that – a recipe describing
how to perform a specific task or job.
What is a safe work method
A SWMS is developed by the employer for
their employees for work that they are
performing. It details how specific risks in the
workplace will be managed. SWMS, or safe
work recipes, are an important part of any
occupational health and safety system. When
we follow a recipe we follow a system.
Whether it’s baking a cake or putting up a
ladder, there is always a right way and wrong
way. However, the implications of not following
our “putting up a ladder” recipe can have
serious, even fatal, consequences.
The SWMS is developed by conducting a
Job Safety Analysis (JSA). The JSA analyses the
components of each task, and identifies the
hazards and control measures for each hazard
identified, for each component of the task.
When developing the JSA care must be taken
not to put at risk the person doing the job. It is
always a good idea to do a desktop JSA,
before refining the procedure by watching
someone actually doing the task. Ask yourself;
what is being done, what are the hazards, and
how can we perform this task in a manner that
minimises the risk? Always refer to the
manufacturers operating guidelines, as well as
any relevant industry bodies and Australian
Standards. The SWMS is designed to be
developed only after a full risk assessment has
been completed and all reasonable risk control
measures put into place.
This information is then used to develop
the SWMS which employers use to perform
the task. Once completed, it would be
expected that all personnel performing that
specific task would comply with the SWMS.
The SWMS is an effective method of
communicating the agreed work practices to
all staff within a workgroup. As it is a formal
document, staff should be using it as a
resource, and following the procedures
outlined in the document.
Recipe for safety
Like a recipe the SWMS clearly outlines the
ingredients required. This may include
equipment, licenses, the number of workers,
skills and qualifications. The SWMS should be
as detailed as necessary to describe the
activity being carried out, and the method used
to control the risk. Similarly we should always
consult those involved with the activity, and
those who would be required to follow the
SWMS. You should also consult internal and
external experts if required.
Training is essential
Staff using a SWMS should be trained in its
use and supervised the first time they use it.
Training documents should be kept so that we
can demonstrate that training was conducted
and that the employees demonstrated an
understanding of the SWMS. By following the
SWMS, we ensure that every single time the
task is performed it is performed the same way,
the safe way. It is also best practice to
randomly audit staff at appropriate intervals, to
ensure ongoing compliance with the SWMS.
Any non compliance observed should be
documented, and corrective or disciplinary
We cannot assume that
a single safe work method
statement is going to be
effective for every single
similar situation in the
workplace. Hazards that
appear on one worksite
may not exist on another
site. . As part of our Safe
Work Method Statement,
we should therefore
require employees to
perform a Job Safety
Analysis prior to
commencing work. The pre work JSA in this situation looks at the variables that may exist on different sites. Where are the power lines? What is the ground surface made of? Are there pedestrian or traffic hazards.
We adjust our SWMS to take into account these changing variables. For example if there are pedestrians about we might need to take additional steps to ensure their safety, and to keep them from walking under the ladder. Similarly if we have parked under power lines, we might need to reposition our vehicle to avoid coming into contact with powerlines when we remove our ladder, or alternatively our work may require us to select a specific type of ladder – for example fibreglass – for the task at hand. Be careful downloading generic Safe Work Method statements from the internet – Because SWMS need to be specific, generic documents may not meet your legal requirements for providing a safe system of work in every situation.
For example we might need to have separate safe work method statement for different types of ladders, or different tasks. It is possible to put up a ladder with one person, however there are limitations on the size of the ladder and location where this task can be performed safely. So now we have two separate ‘putting up a ladder recipes’ – one for a single person and one for two people.
Like the warning on our cake recipe telling us that the oven may be hot, we too have a warning on or SWMS, telling us not to overload the ladder – 1 ladder, 1 person. These warnings form part of the safe work method statement, and are also included in the training provided to relevant employees.
The occupational health and safety act requires employers to provide a safe workplace for their employees. The Safe Work Method Statement is simply one way of complying with this requirement. A well constructed and effective document will clearly illustrate that you have taken the time to identify the hazards, assess the risks, and implement effective control measures.
- Brad Nathan, Easy HR, firstname.lastname@example.org