How and when do I develop a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS)…?

How and when do I develop a Safe Work Method Statement SWMS

By Monica Toews Brown

Safe Work Method Statement basics

When I walk up to a worksite, one of the first things I inspect is the high risk activities and whether or not the Safe Work Method Statement meets the requirements of the WHS Regulations. 

Nine (9) times out of 10 they do not. Just last week, there was a forklift being operated (high risk construction work - work involving movement of mobile powered plant) with no risk assessment available.

At another workplace they had JSAs but they had not been reviewed in over ten years and did not comply with the current legislative requirements for SWMS (e.g., includes how the SWMS will be implemented, monitored, and reviewed etc. - refer to Clause 299 of the WHS Regulations). 

And often, when there are SWMS they are written complexly (often by the site engineer or safety person) and not in words easily understood by the crew who need to work to them. 

SWMS are extremely important and should be used as a planning tool, developed in consultation with the crew who needs to work to them.  SWMS implementation audits have often been very useful in identifying whether or not SWMS are being implemented appropriately, and if the SWMS adequately covers the hazards and controls in the high risk activity. 

When I worked with the site supervisor and demonstrated how to complete a SWMS implementation audit, they found the SWMS much more effective and easier to implement, monitor, and review.

A business that carries out work that is defined as High Risk Construction Work is required to develop Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) in order to control the risks associated with the work.

High Risk Construction Work as defined in the WHS Regulations includes the following:

Work that involves a risk of a person falling more than 2 metres.
Work that is carried out on a telecommunication tower
Work that involves demolition of an element of a structure that is load-bearing or otherwise related to the physical integrity of the structure
Work that involves, or is likely to involve, the disturbance of asbestos
Work that involves structural alterations or repairs that require temporary support to prevent collapse
Work that is carried out in or near a confined space
Work that is carried out in an area that may have a contaminated or flammable atmosphere
Work that is carried out in or near a shaft or trench with an excavated depth greater than 1.5 metres or is carried out in or near a tunnel
Work that involves the use of explosives
Work that is carried out on or near:
a) pressurised gas distribution mains or piping
b) chemical, fuel or refrigerant lines
c) energised electrical installations or services
Work that involves tilt-up or precast concrete
Work that is carried out on, in or adjacent to a road, railway, shipping lane or other traffic corridor that is in use by traffic other than pedestrians.
Work that is carried out in an area at a workplace in which there is any movement of powered mobile plant
Work that is carried out in an area in which there are artificial extremes of temperature.
Work that is carried out in or near water or other liquid that involves a risk of drowning
Work that involves diving work

In order to develop a SWMS that will add value to your business, the SWMS must be developed in consultation with the workers who will be directly engaged in the works.

This will ensure that the personnel undertaking the work, have input into how the tasks will be completed, what tools and equipment are required and what hazards may be present during the works.

They will also have direct buy in on the control measures that will be implemented to reduce the risk to personnel (aka ownership and subsequent successful implementation of controls). Utilising the skills, experience and lessons learnt from your workforce will ensure that a lot of the hazards and required control measures associated with the task will be identified before the work commences.

A SWMS must include the following information:

  • Identify the high risk construction work associated with the activity
  • Detail the hazards associated with each job step
  • Detail the control measures that will need to be implemented to control the hazards
  • Detail how the SWMS will be monitored and reviewed.

The Code of Practice for Construction Work includes a SWMS template that can be modified to suit your business.

Once the SWMS has been documented on a SWMS form, each worker undertaking the work must read, understand and agree with the job steps, identified hazards and control measures.

If additional hazards or control measures are identified during the works, these must be added to the SWMS. These can be added to the document in the field and discussed with all workers undertaking the work.

The simplest way to demonstrate that the changes have been communicated is to get each worker to re-sign the SWMS with the date the changes were made.

It is very important that the SWMS is located at the workface to ensure personnel can review the SWMS to ensure the works are being undertaken as planned. This will assist in managing risks associated with the work.

For more information on SWMS’s, or for assistance in hazard identification, contact Red Insight at



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