The Problem with Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS)

When SWMS were first put into regulations they were meant to be an on the job tool to help workers and employers consider specific high risk tasks, develop risk controls to manage those risks and document them.

In guidance material issued by WorkSafe Victoria in 2010 a SWMS is described as “a safety planning tool that identifies the hazards and risks of HRCW and documents the control measures necessary to manage those risks. The SWMS should describe to workers in clear terms how risks from the work are to be controlled to enable the work to be done safely.”

However, SWMS have become an end in themselves and are now the bane of employers, workers and contractors.

They are seen as the cure all for ensuring someone is managing safety.

They are usually prepared head of time and not updated to reflect the actual work being done on the day reducing their relevance and often not even referred to by workers on the day of the job.

They are often prepared by nonoperational staff reducing their relevance even further.

They are long and complex and ignore the skilled knowledge of workers.

They are often ignored in the field or cursorily referred to

They are required for every job from very high risk work to using a broom.

They reference legislation (I tell you who needs to know what regulation is relevant when out in the field)

SOME preparation ahead of time is ok but crucially a SWMS must be a responsive tool which is used to record the discussions and problem solving of workers at the time of the job and the site of the job.

They are not a legal (or even helpful requirement) for all work. The use of generic SWMS without updating at the time of the work will not meet the legal requirements of O/WHS legislation.

The practice of developing SWMS must be considered critically, the content closely monitored and the process of discussion and problem solving be the highlight of the process.