Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) are to be written for high-risk tasks. This can be problematic for organisations, especially those operating across Australian borders, who are confused by the differences in state legislation and the different names for SWMS in each state. The following provides a brief explanation about what SWMS are, the different terminology, what is needed to be included and how to develop a SWMS for a specific task.
Safe Work Method Statements, or SWMS used to have different names in each state. For example, in Queensland they were known as Work Method Statements (WMS) and in Victoria they were referred to as a Job Safety Analysis (JSA). The National legislation developed as part of the harmonisation of safety legislation now refers to them as Safe Work Method Statements.
In summary, SWMS, WMS and JSA’s are the same thing and the main point to remember is that they all have the same requirements, that is, to document the process for identifying and controlling health and safety risks in a task. It is important to note, legislation only requires SWMS to be written for tasks defined as "high risk tasks" in the construction industry - however, many tasks still require a SWMS to demonstrate a safe system of work, and adequate training, instruction and supervision. For this reason, it is becoming an expected tool in most industries to control risks in all kinds of tasks.
Legislation in each State requires SWMS to contain specific information, such as the following:
When completing a SWMS, it is advised that a team is formed. The SWMS team should comprise persons relevant to the task. These can include an employee who performs the task, a designated Health and Safety Representative, a relevant management representative, a member of the Occupational Health and Safety committee, or other persons with knowledge that may assist in the development of an effective SWMS.
The SWMS should outline all of the activities that are undertaken as part of the task. This should include planning, preparation, pre-operational inspections/ maintenance requirements, operational steps and specific emergency procedures. The steps should be written clearly and in a logical sequence.
Hazards for each step should be identified and documented on the SWMS. This enables the correct risk controls to be selected. There may be numerous hazards identified in a particular step such as manual handling, falls, and entanglement in machinery, so risk controls must effectively address all of the identified hazards. When identifying hazards associated with a task, seek advice from qualified or experienced persons, and research whether an incident has occurred in the past (this information can be obtained using workplace records, or safety alerts from OHS Authorities).
It is vital that a risk assessment be conducted before the recommended controls are in place, and then after the controls have been selected. This allows the employer to demonstrate how effective the controls are going to be - which as you can see in the above list, is a requirement of a SWMS.
Once a SWMS has been completed, relevant or affected persons must be consulted with. This includes providing them with information about the hazards and ways in which the identified risks will be controlled. Ensure relevant persons (such as employees who are doing the task) are provided with an opportunity for feedback on the SWMS and take into consideration any concerns they may have.
Lastly, ensure that the SWMS is followed. Supervise employees undertaking the task. Ensure that all risk controls are being used and identify any changes that need to be made as work progresses or an incident or near miss occurs. Monitor the SWMS and its effectiveness periodically and ensure it is relevant for the specific site and task. Review and update as required.
For generic, pre-filled out SWMS, please see our comprehensive list in the menu above or side bar.