What is a safe work method statement? – Occupational Safety Solutions
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What is a safe work method statement?

Posted by Andrew Watters on

What is a safe work method statement? 

A safe work method statement or SWMS is a requirement for the 18 high-risk construction work activities that have been laid out in the WHS Regulations.  Some requirements exist for the safe work method statement.  The conditions are a part of the Code of Practice: Construction Work.

Defining What is a Safe Work Method Statement

A safe work method statement is a document.  The role of the document is to act as an administrative control.  It supports higher order controls to eliminate and minimise the risk to health and safety.  A perfect example of a safe work method statement is one that complements engineering controls.

The document sets out the high-risk construction work activities the will be taking place in the workplace.  The significant hazards expected to arise from the activities to be carried out will be included, along with safety controls that exist to mitigate the risk.

The question of what is a safe work method statement can be summed up as an inclusion of all hazardous construction activities at a workplace.  Multiple can be included in one document to be sure to encompass everything going on. Alternatively a library of safe work method statements for different work activities can be kept, using only those relevant to each project as required.  A safe work method statement is not intended to lay out the work procedure.  It is instead designed to be a tool to help monitor safety control measures required at the place of work.  

The Timing of the Document

Understanding what is a safe work method statement is as important as figuring out the when part of it.  When does this have to be completed?  A safe work method statement is to be prepared before any of the work begins.  

The principal contractor on the construction project has to be sure they have the safe work method statement in hand before they start any activities.  

Preparation of the Document

Each safe work method statement is  to be prepared by the person or business who will be carrying out the high-risk construction work.  They will be engaged directly with everything going on at the construction site day to day.  The builder or their workers are usually best suited to do this.  

It is a meeting of the minds.  If possible you want to have the principal contractor, along with subcontractors, builders, and workers coming together to craft a safe work method statement(s).  The more that everyone is involved, the more complete of a document it will become.  On top of that, you will have a better understanding across the board of its ramifications.

Responsibility for a Principal Contractor

The WHS Regulations dictate that a principal contractor exists in the event a construction project has a cost of work that is $250,000 or more.  The principal contractor is going to be on the hook for making sure that the safe work method statement is obtained.  Any subcontractors working on the project and carrying out high-risk construction activities must provide a safe work method statement(s) to the principal contractor.  

The principal contractor also has to pay close attention to safety on the project, making sure that work is carried out in accordance with the safe work method statement.  In the event that things begin to appear to be more dangerous than they should be, the principal contractor will have to step in.  It really comes down to getting at the ground level of the work and making sure everyone is aware of potential hazards and working in accordance with safety control measures.

Information on a Safe Work Method Statement

A safe work method statement is supposed to be made up of a lot of primary components.  The first and most important of these is that it has to identify the work that is considered to be high risk.  If you have specific things happening on the construction site that meet the criteria for needing the safe work method statement, they should be detailed!  

Hazards that relate to the high-risk construction work also have to be detailed.  It focuses on the risks to the health and safety of those working on site as well.  Again, this is about awareness and trying to figure out where the danger lies.  If you can detail the hazards, then steps can be taken to mitigate the risk of that hazard occurring.  

Again, getting back to the risks, how do you plan on controlling them?  What is a safe work method statement?  It is all about laying out the safety controls to be implemented and following them to mitigate any risks of a hazard occurring within the process.  The statement has to include the safety control points!

Planned safety control measures also have to have an implementation schedule. What is the roadmap to be sure that all of these things are going to be put in place, monitored, as well as reviewed?

Short, To the Point

A safe work method statement does not have to be a novel.  It is, by design, intended to be a clear and succinct document.  It should be short and focus specifically on the hazardous, high-risk construction work that is to be taking place.  If you have a safe work method statement too long it is easy to get lost in the details and lose grasp of its real purpose.  

Workers should be able to read the safe work method statement and easily understand it.  Pictures and diagrams can be included, where necessary, to assist those that speak various languages, but may also be working on the site.

You have options when it comes to the safe work method statement and the numerosity of them.  You may want to have a library of safe work method statement for each high-risk construction work activity, or you may wish to just to group them all together.  It is entirely up to you how to cover everything!

Review the Safe Work Method Statement

Everyone needs to be aware of the safe work method statement before they start to carry out the high-risk construction work.  As a principal contractor or just a worker on the site, be sure that you are familiar with the document and always abide by it.  If you see that the document is not addressing a significant hazard, you can revise it by adding safety controls to mitigate the risk of that hazard occurring.  Additions and changes to a safe work method statement should happen over time.

Retain the safe work method statement in the workplace.  If this is not possible, keep it somewhere handy if a worker or contractor has to get their hands on it.

The Safe Work Australia website has a lot more information on the what is a safe work method statement topic, as does the Code of Practice: Construction Work.  Awareness of what is a safe work method statement is critical.  It is all about knowledge and adequate execution of the document to help ensure safety on hazardous construction sites.


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