While risk has become a business buzzword across sectors this past eighteen months, it’s always been a key priority in high-risk industries like building and construction that, even outside of pandemic life, have long experienced the third-highest rate of worker fatalities. These inherent risks, and the need to provide a working environment that keeps employees feeling safe regardless, have led to an increasing need for specified safety procedures and regulations. But, it isn’t possible to implement these to any true effect without first taking the time to understand the unique risks faced in any chosen workplace.

This is why construction frontrunners are increasingly turning towards safe work method statements (SWMS), that make it easier to identify risks and understand efficient ways to address them. Here, we consider what exactly a SWMS entails, and how you can ensure that it provides the comprehensive safety oversight that you need.

What is a SWMS?

A safety work method statement is a document that clearly outlines high-risk activities within a workplace. Unlike specified safety documents, a SWMS will not typically detail specific tasks or processes but will instead consider entire risk landscapes. A SWMS is not intended to be used in place of procedure, but rather as a tool that helps managers and their teams to monitor and understand risks, as well as the controls surrounding them. Efficient modern SWMS application requires intuitive, easily accessible solutions that incorporate up-to-date information that sets out:

  • Any high-risk activities
  • Hazards that arise from these activities
  • Measures put in place to control those risks

Who needs a SWMS?

According to Safe Work Australia, a SWMS is also a requirement for any companies engaging in high-risk activities that include –

  • Involves the risk of a person falling more than 2 m
  • Working in trenches
  • Exposure to asbestos
  • Energised electrical installations
  • Unstable structures
  • Contaminated or flammable atmospheres
  • The use of explosives
  • Etc.

How to make a SWMS accessible

An overly detailed SWMS can overcomplicate and ultimately confuse safety procedures, so companies must think about the accessibility of a SWMS, ensuring that every team member can gain insight from, and understand, the findings included. An inclusive, concise SMWS solution is the best way to guarantee this benefit, and should especially focus on details that enable immediate understanding of a safety risk through the implementation of –

  • One-source centralised findings
  • Visual risk representations
  • Easily shareable documents
  • Relevant project permissions
  • And more

What to include in a SWMS

Simplification also relies on the collection of only relevant information, ensuring that a SWMS provides real safety value and that informed actions can be taken off the back of its findings. Obviously, the specifics of a SWMS are always going to vary depending on specific workplace requirements, and seeking expert advice is the best way to ensure that only relevant information makes its way into the final report. Generally, information that you should aim to include within your SWMS framework includes –

  • Your company name and contact details
  • Customer and site details
  • A statement that each member of staff has received a copy
  • A scale to rate risks
  • A list of PPE equipment
  • Any potential hazards and their ratings
  • Routine risk mitigation procedures
  • Equipment maintenance lists
  • Emergency procedures
  • Etc.

When to prepare a SWMS

A SWMS should be prepared for each construction site before high-risk operations commence, favourably by the person responsible for the work in question. Managers and contractors should also participate in the development of a SWMS, and all workers should be consulted on and given a copy of the SWMS for signing and future reference. This is especially fundamental to ensure understanding in advance of commencing any project, and should be revisited if risk elements change throughout the work in progress.

Why you need to create a SWMS for each job

Companies who apply a blanket SWMS for each job are at risk of including irrelevant or even incorrect information that means they ultimately fail to meet any legal safety requirements. As such, a SWMS should always be created specifically for any given job, and should address the unique challenges that Workers (employees and sub contractors) are likely to come across in that specific environment.

To simplify this unique application, it’s well worth implementing solutions that include easily editable and adaptable blanket documents that make specifications far faster to make, as well as ensuring that changes throughout a project can be included without hesitation. As well as saving time and money, this is the best possible way to ensure an up-to-date SWMS that workers aren’t afraid to revisit and revise at any stage of a project.

How to implement a SWMS

A SWMS must be implemented before and during work on a construction project, and all tasks must be completed per the information outlined within, or else progress should be halted until safety changes can be put in place. As such, distribution is the last and perhaps most pressing aspect of a powerful SWMS and is most often successfully guaranteed through the use of electronic or digital files.

While paper copies can (and should) be kept onsite if they’re being used, electronic files are sent directly to worker inboxes or specifically delegated to relevant workers for an inclusive SWMS solution, ensuring the Workers have access at all times. What’s more, the ability to select precisely who has access to that document, which is far too often lacking where paper-based files are concerned, ensures wider data security measures that, alongside safety precautions in themselves, make sure that a company is forever dotting their legal i’s and crossing their ‘t’s’.

Apply a SWMS with Access SOS today

While it’s often seen as a complicated aspect of construction safety, delving into the details of a SWMS reveals that there’s really nothing to fear from this go-to safety document. Our solutions here at Access SOS certainly make it easier than ever to ensure adaptable, easy-to-understand and accessible information that all relevant parties can come back to as many times as they need to stay safe from the start of a project right through to their last day on the job.