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The do’s and don’ts of a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS)

Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS)

By definition, a SWMS is a Safe Work Method Statement for high risk construction work, not ALL work.

The various State OHS / WHS Regulations are explicitly clear in their definition of when a SWMS is required – it may surprise some to learn, that there are less than twenty activities identified in the legislation as high-risk tasks requiring the preparation of SWMS.

Before embarking on the time consuming and costly exercise of developing a suite of SWMS documents, you should ask yourself one simple question.

“Am I in the construction industry?”

If the answer is ‘Yes’ then you should prepare SWMS for all the high risk activities that your workers undertake.

If the answer is ‘No’ consider if another form of risk assessment, such as a JSA (Job Safety Analysis) might be more appropriate.

If you do require a SWMS, there are some things you can do to ensure a quality document that will be easily read and understood by your workers.

Here’s a list of Do’s and Don’ts for you to consider.

  • Write or review each SWMS making sure it is project and/or site specific

  • Write effectively:

- Keep it short and simple (dot points may be useful);
- Use a template / layout that is clear and easy to read;
- Set out the activities in a logical sequence
- Accurately identify the hazards,
- List the control measures; and
- Identify a person/ persons responsible for implementation, monitoring and compliance with the SWMS
  • Document the controls so that they follow the order of the ‘Hierachy of Controls’. That is to say, list the engineering controls before the administrative or PPE controls.

  • Involve the workers who actually do the work in the development (and ongoing review) of the SWMS.

  • Regularly review and update the SWMS, taking into consideration changes to site conditions and/or environment

  • Keep in mind your audience

- Educational level (how well do they read?)
- Are any workers from backgrounds other than English?

  • Make the SWMS overly complicated (a 40 page SWMS is rarely going to be read, understood and implemented)

  • Buy generic ‘off the shelf’ SWMS and implement without reviewing, updating and ensuring it is specific to YOUR business

  • When writing, avoid:

- Statements such as “wear appropriate PPE”
- Overly technical or industry terms that are not necessarily known to everyone.
- Slang or acronyms;
- Long or complex sentences

If you’re looking for specialist advice and assistance to determine whether or not you need a SWMS of if there is a more appropriate form of Risk Assessment for your project – we can help.


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