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Is That Safe Work Method Statement Current?

Posted by Andrew Watters on

When your Safe Work Method Statement is up-to-date, it’s a sensible friend. If it’s lapsed however, it’s a fool not to be followed. “Is that SWMS template current?” is a question worth asking. Fortunately, WHS legislation is relatively stable at the moment, but when change does occur, it's usually significant, quickly implemented, and the ripple-through effects are often burdensome. A one-word change in legislation can result in the alteration of hundreds of SWMS procedures. So how do you keep up? How can you stay current? That's what we're looking at today.

This is the fourth of five articles that are unpacking the areas of mindset, method, leadership, currency (being current or up-to-date)and affordability. If you'd like to read the article that summarised these areas, you’ll find it here.

When Change Happens, SWMS’s Often Change


Safe Work Method Statements do not ALWAYS change, but they can, and an error can be profound in its impact - even fatal.  It's definitely worth getting it right.

The tips that follow will help you avoid a misadventure or disaster.

Did You Know ...?

Are you aware of recent movements in Industrial Manslaughter laws? Did you know that:

  • Industrial Manslaughter laws are increasingly coming into play across the nation, with penalties that include imprisonment for life (max) and more than $10M in fines for a body corporate?
  • In many circumstances, the offense proofs include ‘reckless’ or ‘negligent’ behaviour?

The National Safety Council of Australia provided a great state by state summary in their March 2020 ‘National Safety’ digital magazine. It’s a great service and membership is thoroughly encouraged. You can learn more about this here (and I’m not on a commission). 

Another area of interesting change and development is that of Respirable Crystalline Silica (which we wrote about in July 2019) is. Did you know that:

  • As a hazardous substance, it is now considered by many experts to be worse than asbestos?
  • The latest exposure standard is 0.1mg per cubic metre on an eight-hour time-weighted average?
  • PCBUs are required to provide health monitoring for exposure?

You can learn more about crystalline silica here

Perhaps you already knew, perhaps you didn’t, but change is a reality - even when they don’t apply equally to every jurisdiction. But if it did, would you know?

Here are some tips to stay current.

Tip 1 | Get Notified of Safe Work Method Statement Template Changes

In the last four years we've alerted you, via our articles, to significant changes impacting the Environment (Sep 2016), wiring rules (AS/NZS 3000:2018) (May 2019), RCS, or Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS) (Jul 2019), and most recently, Coronavirus (Apr 2020). If you'd like to review those articles, simply follow the links. 

Each change resulted in Safe Work Method Statement amendments. As a result, our clients have also received a variety of direct and targeted notifications and updates. We work hard to keep you informed of changes to legislation or regulation - especially if those changes affect a product you previously purchased from us. 

We provide complimentary updates to products for two years (if the changes are not too cost-prohibitive), but the law is layered and complicated, so we can't guarantee to cover everything. We encourage you to also take advantage of update services from relevant organisations, such as:

More on this below.

Tip 2 | Let Us Sweat the Safe Work Method Statement Details

SWMS templates vary significantly in the way they are used and treated. Consider these five when, where and how examples:

  1. Safe Work Method Statements are required for high risk construction work, under all legislative codes.
  2. SWMSs are also necessary where the Principal Contractor's system demands it.
  3. There is no universal SWMS template format, but there are conventions to follow.
  4. Your SWMS documents should reference relevant legislation, codes and standards. We do this on the 2nd last page of each SWMS.
  5. The Office of the Federal Safety Commissioner (OFSC) and most state WHS systems allow a Safe Work Method Statement to be used as evidence that your system is properly documented - but there's a catch (explained in item 6 below).

These examples may leave you feeling a bit discombobulated [I've always wanted to use that word :) ]. Rather than worry, you might be better off letting someone else sweat the details.

If you have a dependable supplier (like us), you don't have to stress about this.

Why not? Because: 

  1. Our SWMSs cover the relevant Federal codes - keeping you covered.
  2. Our Work Health and Safety Management Systems (WHSMS) operate with minimal Safe Work Method Statement substantiation - making your life simpler.
  3. Our SWMS templates follow content and style conventions. They also provide bonus features wherever possible and appropriate - improving your understanding and efficiency.
  4. Our documents do not reference legislation, regulations or codes unless required, reducing the need for unnecessary updates whenever a bureaucrat feels like wording something more 'eloquently'.
  5. We do not incorporate unnecessary risk assessments into SWMS templates - also reducing unnecessary changes.
  6. You can use a Safe Work Method Statement as documentary evidence, but we avoid this approach. Instead, we choose to incorporate evidentiary content in higher-order documents - again, minimising unnecessary administrative burdens.

Tip 3 | Know How Your SWMS Templates Impact on Your WHS Management System

It might be helpful to expand on the point just made (item 6)

The Office of the Federal Safety Commissioner (OFSC) conducts audits to check if you are complying with minimum legislative compliance. The offices of WorkSafe, SafeWork, Work Health and Safety and Comcare do the same (depending on your jurisdiction). If you'd like to see more on the OFSC audit process, you'll find it here.

They want to see evidence of compliance. There may be technical or industry standards that you are following. That's fine, so long as what you're doing provides a hazard and risk management process that is equivalent or higher to the standard required in the code.

As a Principal Contractor, you don't have to have the same level of expertise as a subcontractor conducting an activity. Nevertheless, you are required to ensure SWMS documents are in place where needed, and that they are of a satisfactory standard.

Two issues flow from this:

  1. You want your subcontractors to be using SWMS templates that are of sufficient standard.
  2. You don't want your WHS Management System designed from a 'bottom-up' perspective.

If your WHSMS (system) uses SWMS's as documentary evidence of compliance, you are going to be continually changing them. Legislative changes will flow down to your lowest SWMS template. It doesn't need to be that way. 

Workplace Health and Safety Management Systems (WHSMS) provided by Occupational Safety Solutions are smarter than that. Our resources are flexible, responsive, non-obstructive and easy to work with.

As the Y2K bug was approaching, a spokesman from Apple said (words to the effect of),  "We might not have answers to every question, but we were clever enough to realise the year 2000 was coming."

There’s a lot to be said for wise planning and design. We've planned with change in mind, so that you can benefit. 

You can view our WHS Management Systems here.

Tip 4 | Invest in Quality to Reduce Compliance Pain 

In addition to being automatically kept up to date with changes (for two years), all our SWMS templates are:

  • Instantly available for download. 
  • Free from ongoing fees, subscription complications or project-use limitations. 
  • Fully customisable and user friendly.
  • Include pre-written SWMS procedures.
  • Fully comply with WHS Act 2011, revised WHS Regulations 2017 and Safe Work Australia Codes of Practice
  • Expertly prepared by qualified WHS Industry Professionals working with business owners and tradespeople.

You can access our Safe Work Method Templates here, and our SWMS Industry packs here.

Tip 5 | If It Isn’t Checked It Isn’t Done

As we’ve already explained, if you read our emails (and you don't change your email address), we’ll keep you abreast of most changes. But how can you improve your odds of not losing something significant in an often too-full inbox?

One solution is to assign the careful checking of those emails to someone’s role description - as a fortnightly or weekly routine. You might also assign a notification alert to particular supplier emails (such as ours). 

The person you assign this to should be:

  1. Designated, 
  2. Authorised,
  3. Responsible, 
  4. Appropriately skilled, 
  5. Specifically resourced,
  6. Supported, and
  7. A staff member (duty of care and due diligence cannot be ‘consulted’ out).

Please don’t miss the last item. The executive of the Principal Contractor is responsible. Even if you engage a consultant in an onsite and recurring manner (which we don’t do), that still won’t remove your liability. 

Tip 6 | Pick Up the Phone

If you’re one of our clients, or you're considering becoming one, make the call. You’ll usually speak with an expert on the first connection. If not, you’ll receive a call back ASAP.

Six Great Approaches

To ensure your Safe Work Method Statements stay current,:

  1. Get notified of safe work method statement template changes
  2. Let us sweat the safe work method statement details
  3. Know how your swms templates impact on your whs management system
  4. Invest in quality to reduce compliance pain 
  5. If it isn’t checked it isn’t done
  6. Pick up the phone

Our Safe Work Method Statement templates are here, and our SWMS Industry packs here. All are very affordably priced, and if you don't find what you need, make contact, and we'll discuss your needs and provide a free quotation for a SWMS Pack tailored to you. Residual Risk SWMS Templates are also  available on request.

Remember that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so we encourage you to review and strengthen what you can. In this article series, we've considered mindsets, methods, leadership, and today, the issue of currency (being current or up-to-date). Next, we'll look at affordability.

We hope you’re feeling empowered and supported.

If you have questions or product inquiries, call 1800 304 336 or Request a Callback by completing the online form. Keeping people and businesses alive is what we do!

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