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It Seems Like You Need an SWMS Template for Everything - But You Don’t!

Posted by Andrew Watters on

Some SWMS template providers give the impression that you need a safe working method statement for everything - tying your boots, taking a break or even spitting into the wind. That’s simply not true! But that doesn’t lessen the challenge! Today, we’ll look at the activities and people that require these solutions and how you can most effectively and profitably meet their demands.

Here are the essentials:

  • A Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) must be produced, used and retained for work determined by the WHS Act to be High-Risk Construction Work (which we’ll explain below).
  • A person conducting a business or undertaking (a PCBU) must ensure that SWMS are prepared, followed and retained for these activities. 

But what about the bigger picture? Business is more complicated, and anyone who has tendered knows that clients often ask for more than is needed. Therefore, success as a contractor requires both submission to matters of law and the mastering of business profitability. We understand this. Actually, we live those same realities ourselves, and we work with clients like you every day. 

This is why we will look at two ‘needs’ and two ‘wants’ when it comes to making safe work method statement decisions. We’ll take a look at:

  1. Safe work method statement requirements as prescribed by law (Need #1), 
  2. Additional SWMS demands in Conditions of Tendering (Need # 2), 
  3. Deciding on a SMWS template strategy (Want #1)
  4. Complying affordably and effectively (Want #2).

Meeting the Safe Work Method Statement Standards Prescribed by law (Need #1)

When we talk about WHS law, we consider both federal and state/territory legislation. 

Safe work Australia (SWA) is the national governing body, but even when you work with Comcare or a government department, you’re unlikely to deal directly with SWA. If work health and safety laws were an arrow, SWA would be its shaft and strength, whereas state authorities are the pointy and painful end of the compliance arrow. They are the ‘ouch!’ factor in safe work method statement compliance and WHS regulation as a whole. 

One example of this ‘pointy end’ is Queensland’s Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement Policy. Since March 2019, WHS Queensland has targeted and enforced 240 particular offences which they call Priority Infringeable Offences. Issuing fines of up to $720 for individuals and $3600 for businesses, they know how to deliver an ‘ouch’!

Who Are You Dealing With?

But what if you’re not in Queensland? Here are two suggestions: know your jurisdiction and know the requirements that apply to you.

Your jurisdiction is where you work, not where you’re based. In other words, if you’re a Victorian company working in Queensland, you’re subject to Queensland (not Victorian) WHS enforcement and regulatory authority. As a result, it’s worth appreciating the resources and expectations of the jurisdictions you work in. You can access the WorkSafe (or Safework) authorities by following these links to ACT, NSW, NT, QLD, SA, TAS, VIC, or WA

While these different authorities can’t seem to agree on a common name, they do agree on this: safe work method statements are required for high risk construction work (HRCW).

What High Risk Construction Work Requires an SWMS?

There are 19 specific activities, across most jurisdictions, that are classified as HRCW. They are given this categorisation due to the significant potential for serious harm associated with those activities. These activities include:

  1. Where there is a risk of a person falling more than two metres.
  2. On or adjacent to roadways or railways used by road or rail traffic.
  3. In, over or adjacent to water or other liquids where there is a risk of drowning.
  4. At workplaces where there is any movement of powered mobile plant.
  5. Structural alterations that require temporary support to prevent collapse.
  6. In an area where there are artificial extremes of temperature.
  7. On or near energised electrical installations or services.
  8. Involving a trench or shaft if the excavated depth is more than 1·5 metres.
  9. On or near pressurised gas distribution mains or piping.
  10. Involving demolition.
  11. Involving a confined space.
  12. On or near chemical, fuel or refrigerant lines.
  13. Involving tilt-up or precast concrete.
  14. On telecommunications towers.
  15. Involving diving.
  16. Involving removal or likely disturbance of asbestos.
  17. In an area that may have a contaminated or flammable atmosphere.
  18. Involving the use of explosives.
  19. Involving a tunnel.

So, we have to comply with laws and regulators; if the law says we must have a safe work method statement, we must. That is meeting need one. 

SWMS Templates and Additional Conditions of Tendering (Need #2)

Obey the law AND win the contract - that’s the goal. Then, you want to fulfill the contract in a way that helps you to bid and win again. We get it! That’s what consistent winning requires.

That means we need to treat our clients as an additional authority to comply with - after all, they decide if you work, and they influence if you work again. 

Are They Unreasonable?

Your clients  are not necessarily evil when they stipulate challenging standards. It is healthy to remember that they carry most of the responsibility for compliance with safe work method statement regulations. Yes, sometimes they can be a bit ‘over the top’, but under the provisions of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 :

  • THEY must decide what SWMS are required;
  • THEY must ensure the SWMSs are compliant;
  • THEY must ensure all required SWMSs are available for use by workers; 
  • THEY must ensure SWMS are followed;
  • THEY must retain all SWMS for audit; and
  • THEY face the brunt of inspections and penalties by authorities.

Given all this, a little ‘overkill’ is understandable - if you’ll excuse a perhaps inappropriate pun. ;)

This is also why, when submitting a tender offer, or chasing commercial or government contracts, you are usually asked to document and submit safe operating procedures. These must almost always include a (usually prescribed) list of safe work method statements. These are then carefully verified for appropriateness as part of the process. For this reason, you will want to fulfil the Tender Document or Contractor checklist’s SWMS requirements as thoroughly and particularly as possible, and we can help you do that.

Deciding on a SMWS Template Strategy (Want #1)

Since winning your tender is so important, we addressed the topic back in July 2018. There we gave the topic a broader focus, and if that interests you, please follow the link. Here however, we are focused specifically on the role of Safe work method statements and SWMS templates.

When submitting a tender offer, or trying to meet contractor requirements, it is usual to provide safe operating procedures that include a (usually prescribed) list of safe work method statements. These will typically be carefully verified for appropriateness by competent (and sometimes annoyingly thorough) bid assessors or safety officers. For this reason, you will want to fulfil the SWMS requirements as thoroughly as possible.

As a general guide, inspectors will check to ensure your safe work method statements:

  1. Correctly identify the work being carried out, 
  2. Are written up before work commenced, 
  3. Are accessible to relevant workers (see next para), 
  4. Are followed correctly, and
  5. Are retained for compliance purposes.

A quick follow up re point 3: Workers do not always need a copy of the SWMS, however, they must be aware of and understand the hazards and controls in accordance with the SWMS (section 39, WHS Regulation).

Affordable and Effective SWMS Template Solutions (Want #2)

Almost every day we deal with business professionals who are facing the same challenges as you. For this reason, unless you’re a highly unusual business, we can address your needs and wants. We’re as thoroughly across industry and legislative trends as it’s possible to be, and our SWMS template range reflects this breadth of resources and our flexibility in resource practices. 

We can provide you with safe work method statements:

If you’re not sure which is best for you, just request a callback or phone 1800 304 336. We’re to help.

The systems, plans and packs offer varied specificity and industry tailoring. This can save you a mountain of time and pain due to the exhaustive coverage of circumstances provided. At the other end of that spectrum, the SWMS template is an ever-reliable and empowering resource - for when that client asks you to cover ‘seemingly’ everything.

We want to help you stay safe, keep others safe, avoid the ‘pointy end’ of WHS enforcement, and win the tenders and contracts you need to succeed. 

And remember that they’re templates - so you can use them again and again.

The Final Word

In the final assessment, regulations and regulators can penalise, close and even imprison you - so we all need to comply. Your clients, on the other hand, can cripple you with onerous demands, the refusal of contracts and the tainting of your name across the industry. As a result, they need to be complied with also. It’s a rigorous standard to meet, but you must. No matter how ridiculous any of their safe work method statement demands might be, compliance is necessary.

We understand the pain.

We also make it as painless as possible. 

If you would like to purchase or investigate further, just follow the link to the WHS Management Systems, Management Plans, Industry Packs, the full SWMS template range, the generic SWMS template, or reach out via phone (1800 304 336) or contact form

Whatever works, we help you win in business, avoid the ‘Ouch!” and keep people safe.


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