Understanding Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS)

What is a Safe Work Method Statement or SWMS?

A SWMS can be either a paper or an electronic document clearly stating the safest way of carrying out the high-risk work. The main purpose is to help both supervisors and workers control and monitor practices to reduce the incidence of injury.

Using SWMS undoubtedly helps business operators in the construction industry to manage risks. They also assist in clearly communicating information to workers, thus protecting all parties while providing a permanent record of WHS compliance. As such, they become an integral element of ensuring a safe and efficient workplace.

Image: © Tomas Castelazo, www.tomascastelazo.com / Wikimedia Commons

When must I have a SWMS?

You must have a SWMS when you are carrying out any work in the construction industry that is considered to be ‘high-risk’. The SWMS details any identified risks involved and the way the operators intend to manage the risks.

To protect yourself against risk, every worker carrying out these tasks must sign the SWMS. In conjunction to this, it must be available on site for inspection. This provides a clear method to help managers and workers collaborate, developing an action plan to prevent accidents. It is not a step by step procedure of how to perform the work.


What are ‘high-risk activities’?

Under WHS Regulation 291, a SWMS is legally required in ‘high-risk construction work’ and there are 18 of these “high-risk construction work activities” detailed in Appendix B of the Code of Practice for Construction Work.

They include work which could result in a fall of over two metres (or three metres in some jurisdictions), such as working on a roof or installing equipment on a telecommunications tower. Demolition work where load bearing is involved; working to remove asbestos; providing temporary support where collapse is possible and working in confined spaces all fit in to the ‘high-risk’ category.

Image: © Tomas Castelazo, www.tomascastelazo.com / Wikimedia Commons

Other categories include working with explosives or near a contaminated or inflammable atmosphere and working on or near gas distribution mains or piping.

Also working near chemical, fuel or refrigerant lines and anywhere that there is a risk of puncturing electrical wiring is considered high-risk. This includes working near overhead or underground power lines, but does not refer to the normal use of power leads and power tools away from these identified high-risk activities. Building units using precast concrete panels also require SWMS, as do any workers carrying out activities on or near roads, railways or shipping lanes that have traffic other than pedestrian traffic.


Who is responsible for preparing the SWMS?

Both the principal contractor and the sub contractor are bound to have a SWMS on site, so they must communicate with each other to determine who should create the SWMS. To ensure this is done in the most efficient way possible, Improve Consulting is here to guide you through the process.