Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) are an employer’s way of identifying and controlling health and safety hazards and risks. The preparation of a SWMS is vital before any high risk construction work can begin.
On a construction project, a person conducting a business or undertaking (employer) must not commence high risk construction work unless they have provided the principal contractor with a copy of the SWMS – it is the law. But besides complying with mandatory regulations, it will help employees remain safe in the presence of particularly high risk hazards.
Employees should ensure that they familiarise themselves with the SWMS relevant for their workplace. The SWMS will provide information about the types of high risk construction work being done, the health and safety hazards and risks arising from that work, how the risks will be controlled and how the risk control measures will be put in place.
Employers also need to ensure that work is done according to the procedures set out in the SWMS by properly supervising and training their employees.
It is also important that employees, health and safety reps, as well as contractors and their employees are consulted when the SWMS is being prepared as much as is reasonably practicable to avoid incidents where employers are not aware of the hazards and so fail to reasonable guard against them.
It is important to remember that having a SWMS in place is not enough, work must be carried out in accordance with the SWMS. If work is not being done according to the SWMS, work must be halted immediately. Work must then be adjusted so that when it resumes it can be conducted according to the SWMS.
It is also important that an employer ensures that supervisors such as foreman etc. have the adequate training to understand and implement the SWMS and the authority to ensure the work is being done in accordance with the SWMS.
The employer must also ensure that all workers involved in the high risk construction have the information and instruction to understand the hazards and risks stemming from the work, understand how to implement the risk controls in the SWMS and implement it and know what to do if the work is not being done according to the SWMS.
The employer should ensure that the SWMS is available on request to any worker engaged in high risk construction work as well as the health and safety reps, inspectors and any other worker on the premises.
This SWMS must be kept and be available for inspection until at least the high-risk construction work is completed and wherever a SWMS is revised and all versions must be kept on site. It is best that the SWMS is kept on the worksite where the high risk construction work is being carried out.
Just like any safety plan, a SWMS must be reviewed regularly to make sure it remains effective. A SWMS must be reviewed and revised if necessary before any change is made to the way the construction work is carried out, before a new system of work is introduced or before the place where the work is being carried out is changed. It should also be revised if a new hazard is identified or if new information about a hazard arises and if a notifiable incident occurs in relation to the construction work.
The SWMS should also be reviewed if a control measure does not control the risk or a request for a review is received from a health and safety representative.
It is also vital to ensure that all workers involved in high risk construction work have received the necessary training and certification such as the White Card and are in possession of a high risk licence.