Safe Work Method Statements – SWMS
What is a SWMS?
SWMS is document detailing how a particular task or activity will be carried out, including required resources, responsibilities, quality and HSE requirements etc.
What is the purpose of SWMS?
- To outline a correct, systematic and safe method of work for the particular task or activity
- To provide an induction document that workers must read/understand before starting a task to meet legal
compliance, hazard identification and control
- To help plan for the task ahead of time
- To provide the Supervisor with a procedure for completing the work
Where does SWMS Sits in the hierarchy of the construction site?
- SWMS is part of a company or project Quality Plan, that will include a list of required method statements for the Project. The SWMS will be produced as site specific to cover the required task.
- SWMS requires the approval of Consultant.
- SWMS is part of the Application For Work (AFW) for consultants and contractors.
- It is the document that must be submitted to detail how the work will be carried out, and attached to the Safety Document when issued to ensure it is at site.
- The Competent Person under must understand the SWMS and ensure this is communicated through toolbox talks (TBT) and implemented for their task and working party
Why do Client asks for SWMS to be completed?
- To ensure the Contractor can demonstrate experience and knowledge of what they will be doing during the project.
- To ensure the Contractor has considered the work, the environment and the people for the task.
- To ensure a safe system of work is employed to protect workers/assets/environment from the known
- To ensure emergency procedures are in place in the event of something going wrong.
When do You need a Work Method Statement?
As a standard practice you need safe work method statement during construction works,. While there is no absolute guidance as when a SWMS must be prepared, it would be in the interest of the Main Contractors to always err on the side of caution and produce a SWMS for all activities. There must be documented SWMS for the critical activity like working at height, excavation etc.
Clearly, due to the nature of construction many activities will be intertwined such as working at height and painting
for example. Main Contractors will be required to combine SWMS for specific works.
When should a Work Method Statement be reviewed or changed?
SWMS should be constantly under review by the Supervisor/Engineer in charge. As sites change, as workers change, the Supervisor should be observing and reviewing the changes with regards to the SWMS. Formal review must take place when major changes or new hazards are introduced to the environment, working practice, and or resources. As an example a formal change would be required when changing working at height from scaffolding to working from a mobile elevated work platform. Normal approval procedures would apply for making changes in the documents.
Can I use a generic Work Method Statement?
Generic SWMS are always a good place to start when completing a specific SWMS, however, SWMS must be site specific because the surrounding environment and resources are always different from site to site. This is applicable to 99% of the work activities. Generic SWMS would only be acceptable where the working environment was constant, but this is very rare. Generic SWMS should be reviewed every 6 months just to make sure it is still current.
Top Ten Tips (TTT) to complete a good SWMS
The TTT listed below is a quick reference and can be used as the starting point or at the end, as a checklist to review the SWMS against.
- Keep the SWMS simple. Don’t make it complicated.
- Use plain English, consider the reader, your message will be clearer.
- Make it site specific, know the location, visit the site, gather information.
- Consult with experts in the work/activity
- Don’t write the SWMS in isolation. Involve all the parties, seek feedback, add check points, pause points for verification/validation through the work process.
- Don’t just copy and paste, and especially from any standards and specifications.
- Check to see if any similar SWMS has been done before.
- Check for lessons that have been learnt from previous work and include them, where appropriate.
- Identify obstacles/issues early and plan, elimination or mitigation actions.
- Use pictures or diagrams as much as you can.
The benefits of a good SWMS that has been implemented to an adequate level on site.
- The risk of harm to employees/environment/assets/customers is reduced, also protecting reputations.
- Time and costs are saved through not having to stop work because of incidents/errors.
- By planning ahead, obstacles can be planned out or mitigation action taken reducing delays and costs.
- It delivers a proactive culture to planning ahead.
- Employees will be trained and communicated with, making them feel more involved and motivated.
What should you consider when writing SWMS?
When sitting down to write a SWMS there are many items to consider that will impact the work and therefore the
SWMS. Persons responsible for SWMS construction need to ensure that they have considered the items that are
appropriate to the current site and proposed work activity sequence. When they are updating an existing generic
SWMS to make it site specific, they should also consider the following subjects:-
- Scope of Work, the particular hazards and required control measures
- Working systems to be used, how complex is the task
- Arrangements for access and egress
- Methods for safeguarding existing structures and systems
- Structural stability precautions
- Protecting workers, members of the public, assets and the environment.
- Plant & equipment to be used.
- Health protection arrangements
- Potential emergency situations, including pollution prevention
- Segregation of specific areas
- Control of noise, etc
SWMS may also include
- Client requirements
- Enforcement authorities
- The Police
- Civil Defence
- Environment Agency
Persons responsible for completing WMS, the more they complete, the greater their competence in SWMS construction. It is up to the Main Contractor or Subcontractor to ensure that the persons responsible for SWMS completion have the adequate training/experience to deliver competent and adequate SWMS.