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Do Your SWMS Templates Command, Caution and Assist Compliance?

Do Your SWMS Templates Command, Caution and Assist Compliance?

If women did come with instructions, would men read them? If your SWMS templates kept workers safe, would they use them? Let’s talk SWMS engagement and solutions. We'll talk about this vital document's design, as well as the themes and feelings you want to keep in mind as you choose, complete and put your templates to work for you.

As you might have guessed by the heading, we're going to do this by looking at three elements of effective SWMS template design and use:

  • Command
  • Caution, and
  • Compliance.

The SWMS templates we provide are authoritative in their content and communication, they encourage caution, and they enable you to effectively and efficiently meet your compliance obligations under WHS legislation and regulations. 

Let's Remember Joel 

Last month I shared that in 2003 I was nearby when young Joel Exner fell to his death. The tragic passing of this 16-year-old boy, and the very justified outrage that followed, created a wave of change that is still present today. It was a turning point for WHS standards.

We revisit Joel's tragic death for several reasons. 

  1. From time to time, it's good to give ourselves a slap-around-the-head reminder of what is at stake. 
  2. It's wise to remember that some people don't correctly assess risk, and 
  3. Some are absurdly willing (or pressured) to act dangerously despite the danger. How do we know this? We can see it in the risk Joel took.

At age 16, Joel Exner fell 12 metres to his death. Twelve metres! That's high! 

Have you ever gone to the top level of an Olympic high diving tower and then slowly stepped (or crawled) to the edge? Have you looked down and felt the fear? Have you perhaps even done the 'Climb-Down of Shame' to a lower level? I have. In situations like this, your body lets you know: awareness of danger floods your muscles, your hand reaches for a handrail, your centre of gravity drops with a slight bend of the knees, your stance widens, and perhaps you even drop to your hands and knees. The body stirs those reactions without even requiring conscious thought.

But those diving towers are only 10 metres high. Joel was two metres higher, with no water beneath him. 

Take a moment and think how you, at 16 years of age, might have responded.

Full credit to the kid for working at that height; Joel certainly had a set. But 12 metres is way up there. It's WAY up there! Surely Joel had a sense of the risks. Or did he?

Using Your SWMS Templates to Command

An effective SWMS document is authoritative because its content is thorough and accurate, and its design communicates a seriousness commensurate with the risks. They offer what I like to call a COMMANDING INTERRUPTION.

Last month I shared some concerns about the overuse of Safe Work Method Statements, and it's worth repeating my concerns:

The overuse of SWMS reduces their effectiveness, diminishes the respect they should instil, and undercuts the command they should convey. 

What I am getting at is a calling (of sorts). We are serious people, doing serious business and having serious conversations about serious topics. Both workplace realities and WHS legislation call us to a higher virtue. As safety professionals, we are called to more than mere compliance; we are called to resource others and conduct ourselves in a manner that saves lives and protects the quality of lives.

WHS resources should not be viewed casually or cynically - like the 'magic water' a footy trainer carries onto the oval during the local match. WHS resources should have a serious vibe - like the safety equipment that is checked and rechecked before the game, the safe-tackle rules that are stringently enforced, and the sombre crowd-hushing sight of an ambulance driving onto an oval after a game is halted due to an injury. 

The logic is simple: if a SWMS exists, there's a legitimate risk worthy of caution. We accomplish this, in part, by commanding attention and submission through form design. You can drive this home at your workplace by your mood and methods. 

Using Your SWMS Templates to Caution

Safe Work Method Statements instil caution in workers by:

  • Identifying and warning workers of hazards in their specific workplace, 
  • Communicating important instructions, 
  • Reinforcing more standardised safety messages, 
  • Providing instruction for emergencies, and 
  • Indicating where work health and safety legislation or regulations are in place. 

The existence of a Safe Work Method Statement should stop a worker the same way a dorsal fin just offshore stops a surfer from jumping in the ocean. It should say, "Stop! Be careful. Here are some things to think about, some things you need to know, and here's the only way you should proceed."

Our SWMS templates are designed to instil specific caution and awareness. They are designed to keep workers alive!

Using Your SWMS Templates to Empower Compliance

A Safe Work Method Statement is a very particular type of document:

  • It is a comprehensive risk management, administrative and procedural resource. 
  • It is an upgrade of the more generic and less complex Job Safety Analysis (JSA) and Safe Operating Procedure (SOP) document. 
  • It is construction-industry specific.
  • It is one of the most straightforward WHS resources to administer.
  • AND it empowers your ability to meet all your compliance targets and requirements.

Your Safe Work Method Statement embeds assessment, analysis, planning, consultation, documentation, and strict implementation, bringing all those together into one easy-to-use and efficient to administrate document. 

This is why a Safe Work Method Statement is a crucial document and a compliance must. 

This is also why your templates need to be better than good. 

This is why we're here for you. 

All SWMS Templates are Not Created Equal

Since these documents have profound ramifications for businesses, owners and personnel, let's look at how you can get them right. 

To begin with, there are apparent safety, workplace dynamic, safety and health aspects to cover. But there are also technical, legislative, moral, relational, procedural, legal and practical dimensions. We can't unpack all those dimensions here, but if we want to command, caution and empower compliance, we need to use SWMS templates that make that happen. 

You Can Go DIY

In the interests of the honesty and clarity we pride ourselves on, please know that you CAN create them yourself. Free blank templates are available from SafeWork NSW (and other jurisdictions). We provide the link because few find the DIY approach efficient or practical, but you have that option. These freebies are just a framework for meeting the minimums. They don't provide any of the work-specific content required, and like a skeleton without muscles, they empower and safeguard very little.

The other danger with DIY approaches is that while you might accumulate lots of good Safe Work Method Statements, which might reduce your culpability, the one you fail on could be your downfall. My point is to stress that every individual SWMS is a huge deal, and there's a lot more work in them than most people appreciate. 

Without exaggeration, your Safety Officer could spend a week assembling just a single SWMS document - and they could still miss something vital, so while you can go it alone, we don't recommend it. 

Your SWMS template NEEDS TO:

  • Be prepared in consultation with relevant others.
  • Account for the broad and typical characteristics of that type of work.
  • Portray for the specific circumstances of your workplace.
  • Identify any risks and hazards.
  • Detail what control measures are required.
  • Clearly describe how following those measures will manage the risks.


  • Risk assessment guidelines and a risk rating calculator.
  • Step-by-step procedures.
  • Transparent allocation of safety responsibilities.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
  • Plant and equipment.
  • Legislation, regulations, codes and standards.
  • Worker signoff.

Alternatively, Get Some Help

Our SWMS templates can be easily accessed and are in a variety of formats. Their design is exacting, precise and professionally oriented, and they are also commanding, cautionary and empowering of compliance. We're here for a reason!

You can learn more about these safe work method resources by viewing our:

The last option mentioned, the SWMS Starter Pack, includes the six most common SWMS templates requested by our clients. The pack is designed to give you a solid launch into the SWMS compliance area whilst also creating a foundation of resources for your SWMS library. 

It includes statements for: 

This pack also represents a 25% reduction off the regular price and is just $285.00 (EX).

You Can …

As a Safety Officer or other safety-oriented representative, what you do matters - and you can do this, even though the SWMS template issue can seem intimidating.

It needs to be said that there is no single key to SWMS template design or use. Many factors are at play, including selecting the right SWMS, designing them the right way, completing them thoroughly, training your team, and requiring them to use them correctly - all whilst keeping command, caution and compliance empowerment in mind.

It also helps to remember that people like Joel Exner need you. Young Joel would have been 35 today. 

Please call 1800 304 336 to ask questions or receive help with our individual safe work method statements, industry packs, stand-alone unspecialised SWMS Template, or the Starter Pack. You can also fill out the contact form to request a callback if you'd prefer. If you do, you'll usually hear back from us the same day. We're a small and highly specialised team, who like you, are doing essential work. 

We look forward to your call.

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