SWMS or Safe Work Method Statement

Possibly the most overused and misunderstood piece of documentation I can think of. In this post I hope to demystify the SWMS and bring a little clarity to what it is all about and how it ‘should’ be used. I say ‘should’ because as you may or may not be aware different companies, states, and people will ask for different formats, content and wording according to what they believe to be the right way to create a SWMS.

So let’s break it down into the 5 W’s Who needs a SWMS, What is it needed for, When do you need to have one, Where should you have one and last but not least WHY should you have one.

Who needs a SWMS?

If you would believe some web sites that sell SWMS you need one to put your boots on. SWMS are for the construction industry, more specifically High Risk construction work which is pretty broad sweeping. In simple terms if you work in the construction industry you should have SWMS. If you are in another industry, say a factory or production facility then there are other ways you need to manage risk, you don’t need a SWMS.

What is a SWMS needed for?

As mentioned above SWMS are for High Risk Construction work. What is High Risk you may ask, Work at Heights, Confined Spaces, Demolition, Excavation, Cranes, Tilt Slabs to name but a few. Construction is inherently dangerous, things are in a constant state of flux and SWMS where designed to clearly state the safe method to complete a specified task, written down for everyone to agree on. Simple really. A SWMS is not needed for a drill or a piece of equipment, SWMS are related to a task such as fitting off the plumbing. You might use a drill in that task but you don’t need a SWMS for a drill.

When do you need to have a SWMS?

This is the million dollar question. Do I need it before I get to the job? Do I have to write it when I’m there? Do I have to have it on me all the time? What do I do with it after the job? And the questions go on. This one is hard to answer specifically but in general create the SWMS before getting to the job (you should know the basic steps and hazards) or have a generic template with the basic steps and hazards already filled out(yes this is allowed). When you get to the job get everyone to review it, make sure there are no other hazards to account for, if there are add them onto the SWMS. Get everyone to sign on and keep it with you on the job and then file it away for as long as you keep your tax records.

Where should you have a SWMS?

Always have your SWMS with you at the job, it doesn’t have to be in paper form either. Technology now allows for us to keep digital SWMS on our phone or tablet and modify or sign off wherever we are. Not only is using technology a great time saver but you will never loose your SWMS in the ute or have it get wet or damaged.

Why should you have a SWMS?

You are legally required to have a SWMS for high Risk Construction work, simple really. More specifically it helps you to manage the risk of the work you are going to do and clearly communicate that information to the workforce so you can all be in agreement of the safest way to complete a task. It protects the business and the worker and provides a record that the process was undertaken.
So I hope that clears up the SWMS questions but will probably generate more questions instead. In the ideal world there would be a standard for SWMS but unfortunately there is not so we will continue to have a variety different expectations depending on who you work with and what their interpretation of SWMS is.
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