Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS): What to know about SWMS

Under work health and safety legislation, persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) have a “primary duty of care” to ensure (so far as is reasonably practicable) the health and safety of workers and others in the workplace.

What is “reasonably practicable” will involve a WHS risk management approach where hazards or risks are identified, assessed and then controlled. A control measure for risks that cannot be eliminated may include implementing a safe work method statement (SWMS) for the performance of the work.

What is SWMS?

SWMS sets out the steps or different aspects involved in the performance of the activity, the risks or hazards associated with that activity, the safety control measures to be implemented; and the persons responsible for managing the safety risk.

A SWMS can be produced for any single task or for a work activity or project (which is comprised of the performance of a conglomerate of different tasks) for example, civil construction work.

SWMS must include the names of the people at the workplace, arrangements for the management of any incidents should they arise, health and safety rules specific to the worksite and ways to collect and review the document.

here are 18 high-risk construction activities that require a SWMS under Work Health and Safety Regulations however each industry has different guidelines for the proper management of those risks.

Purpose of a Safe Work Method Statement

A SWMS is an administrative control tool that helps supervisors and workers confirm and monitor control measures in high-risk construction work. A PCBU or a principal contractor engaging in high-risk construction is responsible for the preparation of a SWMS. It should be prepared before the project commences to manage risks to health and safety by eliminating or minimising risks as is reasonably possible. SWMS describes activities and tasks to be undertaken with systematically planning of activities for efficiency and effectiveness purpose.

Do I need to prepare a SWMS?

The duty to prepare a SWMS before commencing high-risk construction work rests with the PCBU of the workers (or the self-employed person) undertaking the high-risk construction work. However, in practice, there will often be multiple PCBUs to whom that duty applies (e.g. the builder and sub-contractors). In such cases, the sub-contractor is normally best positioned to understand and control the hazards and risks associated with the types of high-risk construction work they are engaged to perform.

A collaborative approach to developing the SWMS ensures that all parties understand the process in detail and that the project is performed as per the document to mitigate associatedWHS risks. It should take into account factors in the workplace that may affect how the high-risk construction is carried out.

How do I develop a SWMS?

Below is the typical approach to developing a SWMS for high-risk construction work

  • Assemble the relevant workers, their Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) and supervisors; ideally at the location of proposed works (there is a legal duty to consult affected workers and their HSRs when identifying hazards or measures to control risk)
  • Review the proposed works and consider any site-specific factors with the potential to impact the works
  • Ensure all proposed high-risk construction work activities are identified and the hazards and risks are listed
  • Select the risk control measures, and describe them alongside each of the hazards and risks that are listed.

When selecting risk control measures for high-risk construction, first seek to eliminate that risk so far as is reasonably practicable (eg by having overhead powerlines de-energised).

If a risk cannot be eliminated, it must be reduced so far as is reasonably practicable, by utilising the hierarchy of controls, and implementing one or a combination of the following:

  • implementing any hazard-specific controls required byWHS laws
  • substituting with a lower-risk activity, procedure, plant, process or substance (eg using a scaffold in preference to ladders)
  • isolating persons from the hazard (eg fence off areas for mobile plant operation)
  • using engineering controls (eg trench shields, guard rails, mechanical ventilation).

If after implementation of the above controls so far as is reasonably practicable, a risk to health or safety still remains, reduce that risk, so far as is reasonably practicable, by using administrative controls (eg safety training, work instructions, warning signs, supervision).

If after implementation of administrative controls so far as is reasonably practicable, a risk to health or safety still remains, reduce that risk, so far as is reasonably practicable, by providing personal protective equipment (PPE) (eg hearing protection, high visibility clothing, respiratory protection) or a combination of appropriate PPE.

Can I use a ‘generic’ SWMS?

‘Generic’ is a term widely used in industry to describe a pre-prepared SWMS which seeks to address a range of hazards that will potentially be encountered by workers during a particular work activity.

A generic SWMS is not acceptable unless further work is done to make it ‘site-specific’. This can be done by reviewing and revising it as necessary with regard to its suitability for the specific environment and circumstances in which the high-risk construction work will be performed. Any such review and revision process should follow the steps outlined in the ‘How do I develop a SWMS’ section.

Benefits of a SWMS

Below are the key benefits of having proper SWMS

  • Assists in complying with legislative and regulatory requirements for high-risk work
  • Provides a basis for inducting employees on the project’s work health and safety requirements
  • Helps minimise safety incidents and if there are any, there is a clear course of action
  • Increases productivity by avoiding downtimes caused by safety incidents
  • Minimises expenditure towards incidents and injuries
  • Ensures cohesion as everyone works towards common safety goals

Record-Keeping Requirements

A copy of the SWMS must be retained for the duration of the high-risk construction work.

The SWMS should be kept available at the location of the high-risk construction work, where it can be readily referenced by affected persons, or reviewed and revised as necessary.

SWMS may be stored in an electronic format (eg on a smartphone) so the persons doing the work have ready access to the document for reference.

Consideration should also be given to the format’s capacity for revision (if required), and how appropriate worker consultation in the SWMS preparation process might be demonstrated.

If you need help developing high-risk construction work SWMS or Safety management plans, our team can help. Feel free to contact us by using the link below:

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