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Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS), they are often a necessary tender requirement and where works defined as ‘high risk construction work’ are involved SWMS are mandatory.

There’s just one problem — understanding how safe work method statements work can be confusing. 

But since safe work method statements are a part of the legal framework for Australian State and Territory WHS laws. A basic understanding of SWMS can help you and your team recognise what your obligations are.

To help you gain a better understanding of Safe Work Method Statements, we have answered three questions we often receive here at SafetyCulture:

  • Is the SWMS primarily a ‘statement’ for a principal contractor to understand how a subcontractor will conduct their work practices safely on site?
  • What is the legal requirement to have a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS)?
  • Can I use a SWMS for work that is outside of the scope of the defined high risk construction work?
  1. Is a SWMS primarily a ‘statement’ for a principal contractor to understand how a subcontractor will conduct their work practices safely on site?

This is only partly correct.  A SWMS primary purpose is to actually help supervisors and workers implement and monitor the control measures established at the workplace; however, it must also be provided to the principal contractor (if you are not already the principal contractor) before high risk construction work starts.

The principal contractor must have a copy of sub-contractors SWMS before work starts for two practical reasons:

  1. To determine beforehand  that the sub-contractors documented Safe Work Practices are of an acceptable standard to allow for safe work on site and,
  2. As a reference for those in charge of the workplace to ensure that the high risk construction work continues to be carried out in accordance with controls as stated in the SWMS

The purpose of a SWMS is to enable all people involved with specific high risk construction work to have a full understanding of the risks involved with undertaking that work and to implement the risk controls outlined in the SWMS thereby increasing workplace safety.

  1. What is the legal requirement to have a Safe Work Method Statement?

Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) is a component of the legal framework relating to Australian State and Territory WHS laws. It arises from the regulations supporting the Primary WHS acts in each Australian State and Territory.

A Safe Work Method Statement is legally only required for work that is defined as ‘high risk construction work’. The definition of ‘high risk construction work’ and the 18 activities that specifically make it high risk are set out within the regulations for your specific state or territory. We have previously written about high risk construction works, a full list of works that involve ‘high risk construction work’ can be found in the article ‘A workers guide to High Risk Construction SWMS.’

Some examples may be working where there is a risk of a fall over two metres or, any movement of powered mobile plant or, work carried out on or near energised electrical installations. It is almost guaranteed that at least one of the prescribed activities will trigger the need for a SWMS when conducting construction work.  The Model Regulatory Framework for SWMS outlines this process.

  1. Can I use a SWMS for work that is outside of the scope of the defined high risk construction work?

Yes indeed! The government has only specified what you must do to remain legally compliant. There is nothing that says you cannot develop and implement systems to the same level of care, or higher, for activities outside of the scope of the regulations. In fact, Safe work Australia itself states in the Construction Work Code of Practice Nov 2013;

“for all other construction activities a SWMS is not required. However, a person conducting a business or undertaking must manage risks to health and safety by eliminating or minimising risks so far as is reasonably practicable.”

In other words, you must still manage risks to health and safety by eliminating or minimising risks with all activities you undertake.  The way you manage those risks should also still be defined by some form of documented information. Whether it be with a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), incorporated into a larger Safety Management Plan (SMP) or in the same format as a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) is up to the person implementing the controls.

Developing and providing documented systems to Australian businesses for over 10 years. SafetyCulture have found that SWMS have become the standard now for many activities. This has been influenced by the industry itself, who have chosen to adopt the SWMS format for many activities  outside of the scope of regulations.

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