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You Need a Better SWMS Template Than Safe Work Australia Demands. Here’s Why!

You Need a Better SWMS Template Than Safe Work Australia Demands. Here’s Why!

Safe Work Australia (SWA) has been plugging its interactive SWMS tool. In response, we should thoroughly and honestly examine some of the marketplace and safety realities surrounding SWMS templates and compliance. We have spoken about these topics before, especially in June 2021, when we wrote about the now well-entrenched trend of customers asking for more Safe Work Method Statements than are legally required. We'll undoubtedly revisit content from that article but also journey in another vital direction.

Specifically, we will look at:

  • Some immediate points of clarification.
  • Why Do Safe Work Method Statement Expectations Vary? 
  • Why is the SWA template tool insufficient for many? 
  • A Closing Tip.

Immediate Points of Clarification

Firstly, let's acknowledge that the SWMS template tool from Safe Work Australia might be sufficient in some circumstances. If you're not working in a contractor capacity or if you're working primarily in residential or private service roles, the SWMS template may be enough - at least as far as the legalities are concerned.  

Secondly, the limitations of their template tool are significant:

  1. It is only for High-Risk Construction Work, 
  2. It comes blank,
  3. It provides a single sample, 
  4. There is little flexibility or prompting for adjustment, and 
  5. Almost all the substantive content needs to be added by you. 

If that sounds like a shotgun blast of criticism or a somewhat mean listing of vulnerabilities, fair enough, but the limitations are significant and consequential for many businesses in the construction industry. When choosing a SWMS template, don't follow the advice of the recently discovered Greek Philosopher Mediocrates; his famous quote, "Meh, good enough", is not a standard we recommend.

Third, at the risk of stating the obvious, our SWMS templates differ. They:

  1. Cover a diverse range of tasks (not just high-risk construction work), 
  2. Our templates are pre-written with only minor business specifics needing to be added, 
  3. We have a diversity of task specific SWMS (almost 200 at the time of writing),
  4. They provide prompts and guidance when you need to localise and customise, and
  5. They cover nearly all of the substantive content.

In the final assessment, the difference is vast, and the benefits are many. Not only will our SWMS templates cover you legally, but using them can also help you document and implement an effective and safe training process for workers.

Fourth and final in our opening clarifications, please trust in our commitment to a high degree of integrity and professionalism. In 14 years of business, we have never advised someone to buy a SWMS without having good reason to believe they needed it - and we won't be changing that commitment if we hear from you. The number to call is 1800 304 336. 

Why do the Expectations for the Safe Work Method Statement Vary? 

With those up-front clarifications made, let's consider the differences between the expectations of Safe Work Australia, those of your customers, and the goals you and we pursue. A summary could read as follows:

  • Safe Work Australia wants you to be legally compliant. 
  • Your customers or clients want to cover their arse. As a result, they may use SWMS Checklists or Contractor Management Portals that demand more detail than is legally required.
  • You want to be profitable and compliant while keeping your workers safe and keeping costs down.
  • We also want you to be profitable. We do this by helping you be compliant, win contracts, keep your workers safe and keep safety costs down. 

The problem is that we all pursue different goals and serve different people. This is why when Safe Work Australia says, "Jump this high," your customers and any Contractor Management Portals (such as Cm3) say, "No, you'll jump this bloody high!" 

All too regularly, the expectations forced on you may seem unfair and unreasonable. Sometimes, this is because we live in a litigious and 'cover-my-arse' age. Sometimes it's simply the profit motive generating exploitive, malicious and selfish actions. Whatever the reasons, this is our shared reality. 

Whether it's morally right or humanely reasonable is irrelevant. We need to do whatever is required. You need to land the job, perform the role safely, and make a sustainable profit. There is little point in debating SWMS content with your clients when there are other contractors lined up and happy to comply.

This power-tension reminds me of a wedding speech I once heard of. During his speech, the father-of-the-bride held out his hand and asked his daughter, now a freshly declared wife, to place her hand on his. Then he got the husband to put his hand on hers, then she put hers on his, and the husband completed the stack. With all hands stacked, the bride's father solemnly looked into his new son-in-law's eyes and said, "Enjoy this day, son. This is the last day you will have the upper hand."

And so it is with WHS standards, legislation, and even SWMS templates. You are not in charge - but we can still help you win.

Our Customer's Stories

We regularly hear our customers complain about their clients. Demands for an overcautious amount of SWMS are typical, and other ridiculous and unnecessary inclusions are common. Our customers are sandwiched between a legally empowered authority (such as SWA) and their clients’ SWMS Checklists  or Contractor Management Portals. The first demands the legislative minimum, while the latter requires a whole lot more.

Consider a few examples.

One of our customers was a cleaner tendering to work in High Schools. The Contractor Management Portal insisted on a compliant Safety Management System and SWMS for cleaning work activities.  Another requirement was establishing a first aid and amenities station in case first aid was required. This was absurd for the work being done, its out-of-hours nature and the fact that the school would not allow an amenities building placed on their site for a cleaner. We suggested he contact the Contract Manager to seek clarification and thankfully that requirement got dropped. His client and the Contractor Management Portal had asked for more than is legally required, as is their right - but thankfully this one ended well..

Another customer reached out because their new contract required comprehensive listings of legislation, codes and standards (presumably to demonstrate currency or that they were up to date). They called to confirm that we had that data included before purchasing. 

There have been so many absurd stories. When the SWMS templates of others fail, or even ours need customisation and addition, the demands have sometimes been tedious - but occasionally are grounded in a legitimate situation that needs to be addressed. Here are some other PCBU or third-party management expectations that exceed SWA standards:

  • SWMS Validity (valid “from” and “to” as well as re-induction processes),
  • Listings of ALL POSSIBLE Plant and PPE that might be used, even some that will never be used,
  • Before and After Risk Rating (residual risk),
  • Four or Five-Tier Risk Matrix (our usual standard is three-tier). There are endless interpretations on this one, and the SWA template has space for no risk rating at all. 
  • Spaces for reporting of delegation,
  • Separate hazards and safety controls leading to a longer SWMS with information repeated, and more.

So what was once uncommon is becoming all too common. This is why you need a SWMS template that can be edited, as well as good support from your provider. We have never failed at being able to provide or advise a solution to move forward.

The Reverse Challenge

Occasionally, we also have a customer who buys one of our Industry packs but then is informed by SWA or some other person that "all those SWMS aren't necessary." This advice is usually well-intended, and from a legal standpoint, it might even be technically accurate, but as we have already established - it isn't the industry reality - not if you want to last!

What is less common, but it does happen, is that someone calls believing we've oversold them and made up these extra SWMS in order to pad out a product and charge a higher price. We explain that, "If you'd called first, we would have happily identified your needs, created a tailored SWMS pack using only the SWMS you select, and then we would have discounted the price." We are happy to do this in order to deliver well and look after you.. 

A phone call always saves a lot of pain and misunderstanding. We don’t want you to purchase a SWMS that you have no use for!   

A Closing Tip: We Believe in Our SWMS, But Don't Become Over-Reliant on Them

While SWMS templates can be valuable resources, especially ours, they should not be relied upon exclusively. In part because of the reasons stated above, but also because legally and practically you need additional resources to manage your duty of care for workers. These additional resources can include:

These resources supplement and undergird your Safe Work Method Statements and ensure you adequately address the unique safety requirements of your team, clients, and projects. 

The point is this: overreliance on generic SWMSs may result in a one-size-fits-all approach. This will only meet some of the goals we have been talking about. 

In Closing

While a SWMS template from Safe Work Australia is a valuable resource and will meet minimum legal requirements, more is needed to win construction contracts, and it almost certainly won't be enough to instruct some of your workers. As a construction industry executive or leader, you need to be aware of these limitations, and hopefully, you now better understand the problems and solutions.

Investing additional time, resources, and expertise is necessary - and the SWMS template from Safe Work Australia won't suffice for many! The remaining question is, what does that look like for you? At the risk of too much repetition, a phone call is the quickest and most effective way. Resolve your doubts, have your questions answered, and ensure you don't invest money and time in the wrong SWMS template - all by making the phone call. You can reach us at 1800 304 336; when you do, we'll save you time, money, and stress - and we provide good old fashioned customer support to back all our products!

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