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Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS)

Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS)

What is a Safe Work Method Statement Definition?

A Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) is a legal document that enables all people involved with specific high-risk construction work to have a full understanding of the hazards and risks involved with the task and provides controls to manage the risk associated with those hazards. SWMS are also referred to by other terms including, Work Method Statements, Safe Work Methods, SWM, WMS or SWMS sheet.

A SWMS is an administrative control used to identify and support higher-order controls to eliminate or minimise risks to health and safety. A SWMS is not procedural in a step-by-step fashion like a Safe Operating Procedure—rather, it should be used to assist those on site confirm and monitor the control measures required.

Examples of Safe Work Method Statements can include tasks such as working at heights, working with powered tools, or handling hazardous substances. While these examples are common in construction, generic SWMS can be tailored to any industry where there's a risk of injury.

What is the purpose of a SWMS?

The main purpose of a SWMS is to help everyone on site understand what risk controls are in place to safely carry out high-risk construction work. A SWMS provides a common understanding between all parties involved in the project/task that has been documented for easy reference. A SWMS can also be used as a training or auditing tool.

SWMS meaning in a safety context revolves around identifying potential risks in a job and defining steps to control those risks.Specifically, a SWMS is used to describe high-risk construction work  being undertaken, identify what resources and are needed and defines appropriate controls to complete the task as safely as possible.

When is a SWMS required?

A Safe Working Method Statement is required by law to be prepared, reviewed, and kept on-site whenever high-risk construction work is carried out. High-Risk construction work is defined in regulations for over 15 scenarios, such as when a person may fall more than two metres or work in confined spaces. It is important that the person conducting the business or enterprise examine the work health and safety regulations in their state to identify what work will trigger the requirement for a SWMS.

A SWMS is not required by law for ‘work of a minor nature; however, the format for SWMS is now widely used by many industries other than construction as a format for managing health and safety on site. 

Health and Safety Representatives are integral in implementing the SWMS, often having first-hand knowledge of risks in the workplace that may be missed by managers.

What are the elements of a SWMS?

The major elements of a SWMS include:       

  1. The identification of work that is high-risk construction work as defined in regulation
  2. The SWMS needs to identify hazards relating to the high-risk construction work and any associated risks to health and safety coming from those tasks
  3. The SWMS must describe the risk controls used to manage the identified risks on your construction project, and 
  4. describe how the risk control measures are to be implemented, monitored and reviewed.

Safe Work Method Statements should be focussed on describing specific hazards and risk controls in an easy to understand way, applied at the workplace, monitored to maintain relevance and reviewed when changes to site conditions occur.

SafetyDocs SWMS include provision for:

  • The name of the principal contractor.
  • Name, address and ABN
  • Details of the person responsible for ensuring monitoring and compliance with the SWMS
  • The date the SWMS was prepared and review dates
  • The signature of each worker

How to Write a Safe Work Method Statement

The Ultimate 10-Point Checklist

1. Is your SWMS site-specific? It is important to note that a SWMS must be site-specific, meaning it should address the specific risks and hazards related to a particular task at a specific location. This forms part of a workplace specific risk assessment.

2. Does the SWMS identify hazards, risks and control measures associated with each work step?

3. Does the SWMS template adequately identify high-risk work as prescribed by the WHS regulations?

4. Does the SWMS identify the risks levels associated with each job task (Have risks been assessed using a risk assessment matrix)?

5. Do the controls demonstrate the use of a hierarchy of control?

6. Does the SWMS show evidence of the appropriate licenses, qualification and training required to understand the job?

7. Does the SWMS outline providing personal protective equipment?

8. Does the SWMS include relevant and current legislation and codes of practice?

9. Does the SWMS include details of all plant, equipment and hazardous substances required to complete the task?

10. Is there a section to sign off by workers to confirm that they have read, and understood the SWMS?

A Safe Work Method Statement is an important part of workplace safety, assisting with training and compliance requirements for WHS regulations.

How to Assess Hazards and Risk

Perform a risk assessment and modify your SWMS at the beginning of each new job or if changes are made to the current job. The risk assessment process can be expressed in the diagram below:

Before starting work, workers should be aware of the people, equipment, materials and work methods at the workplace. Stop and think, "What might cause harm?" Identify anything that could potentially cause an incident. If there is a safety representative on site, they can often help to identify high risk activities in the work environment. Safety Representatives  will usually have first hand knowledge of risk in the workplace that can be missed by managers.

Remembering to clearly identify any high-risk construction that the SWMS is legally required to be prepared for such as excavated depths over 1.5 metres or where there is a chance of a person falling.

Example: Trip and hazards when constructing a new pathway or In scenarios where work involves a powered mobile plant, a separate SWMS is required for each high-risk construction work activity.

Control Measures

After clearly identifying hazards it is important to apply control measures to reduce health and safety risks. Relevant information must detail how the risks are to be managed. Use the hierarchy of controls to determine the best course of action. Controls such as changing the work method to a safer one or using barriers or other engineering controls should always be considered before weaker controls such as signage or safe work directions.

Example: Add safety fencing and signage – Isolate the area to prevent access

Modify the SWMS

Whenever new hazards are identified, work activities change or a notifiable incident has been reported, the SWMS should be reviewed and modified as required. Add any new controls and document who is responsible for making the changes on site. Supervisors should carefully monitor the work activities to ensure resources are available and controls followed. Try to make the instructions as simple as possible so that even those  from non english speaking backgrounds can understand it.

Start Work

Once the hazards are controlled, workers and contractors can begin work. Risk assessments are a continuous process to maintain the health and safety of everyone on site. Understanding the SWMS meaning in a safety context is key to ensuring all work is carried out in accordance with safety regulations and guidelines. A well-prepared SWMS helps reduce workplace accidents and promotes a culture of safety.

SWMS available for instant download and supplied in fully editable MS Word format for use in your business.

Looking for an industry-specific SWMS pack? check out our range of Industry packs, or: