Safe work method statements (SWMS)
How and when to prepare and use a safe work method statement (SWMS) for high-risk construction work (HRCW).
Learn about SWMS
A SWMS is a document that sets out the high risk construction work (HRCW) to be carried out at a workplace, the hazards arising from these activities, and the measures to be put in place to control the risks. SWMS must be prepared before HRCW commences.
The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations) require employers and self-employed persons to prepare a SWMS before starting HRCW.
High-risk construction work involves activities
- where there is a risk of a person falling more than 2m
- on or next to roadways or railways used by road or rail traffic
- in, over or next to water or liquids where there is a risk of drowning
- at workplaces where there is any movement of powered mobile plant
- where there are structural alterations that require temporary support to prevent collapse
- in an area where there are artificial extremes of temperature
- on or near energised electrical installations or services
- involving a trench or shaft more than 1.5m deep
- on or near pressurised gas distribution mains or piping
- involving demolition
- involving a confined space
- on or near chemical, fuel or refrigerant lines
- involving tilt-up or precast concrete
- on telecommunications towers
- involving diving
- involving removal or disturbance of asbestos
- in an area that may have a contaminated or flammable atmosphere
- involving the use of explosives
- involving a tunnel
Who must ensure a SWMS has been prepared before commencing HRCW?
In practice, whoever is most familiar with the HRCW activity to be performed, should be involved with developing the SWMS, including affected employees and their HSRs.
The self-employed person if they or their engaged contractors are intending to undertake HRCW.
- Duty holders (employers and self employed persons) must ensure that HRCW is performed in line with the SWMS.
- If the SWMS is not complied with the HRCW must stop immediately, or as soon as it is safe to do so. HRCW cannot resume until it complies with a SWMS or the SWMS is reviewed and, if necessary, revised.
- The duty holder, in consultation with the affected employees and their health and safety representatives (HSRs), must review and revise the SWMS whenever the HRCW changes or there is an indication that risks are not adequately controlled.
- The duty holder must retain a copy of the SWMS for the duration of the HRCW.
The SWMS should be available at the location of the HRCW, where it can be readily referenced by affected persons or reviewed and revised as necessary. Copies can be kept in electronic format.
How to prepare a SWMS
- Bring together the relevant employees, their HSRs and supervisors at the location of the proposed works, if possible.
- Review the proposed works and consider any site-specific factors that could impact the works.
- Ensure all proposed HRCW activities are identified and hazards and risks listed.
- Select the risk control measures and describe them alongside each of the hazards and risks that are listed.
- Assess, review and update the SWMS if anything changes on-site, for example: weather or scope of work.
Hand written amendments can be made on site.
Selecting risk control measures for HRCW
To control the hazards of HRCW, employers must use the hierarchy of control to:
- substitution, for example, reduce risks of crushing hazards by using mobile scaffold instead of elevated work platform
- isolation, for example, install concrete barriers to isolate employees from vehicles
- engineering controls, for example, bench, batter or shore the sides of excavations
Implementing these controls does not reduce the requirement to implement mandated controls specified by law (e.g. the OHS Regulations 2017).
A contractor is restoring a building façade. There is a risk of persons falling more than 2m (HRCW) while doing this work, so a SWMS is required.
The contractor consults with employees when developing the SWMS.
- some work can be done from the ground using a paint scraper and roller poles, partially eliminating the risk of a fall
- where poles can’t be used, scaffolding will be used instead of ladders, further reducing the risk of a fall
- a risk remains that persons could fall more than 2m if the scaffold is misused. They reduce the risk further by using administrative controls such as training employees, posting warning signs and ensuring employees are supervised appropriately.
Can a SWMS address matters other than HRCW?
Only hazards and risks that are directly related to HRCW activities need be included in a SWMS. However, if it is helpful to document non-HRCW work, such as risk controls for operating plant, then include them in the SWMS.
Employees are installing a roof and there is a risk of persons falling more than 2m. As this is HRCW, it must be addressed in a SWMS. There are also other hazards and risks including the risk of employees below being struck by falling objects. These must still be managed, however, the risk of falling objects does not need to be in the SWMS because they are not part of the 19 activities of HRCW.
What is a ‘generic SWMS’ and are they acceptable?
A 'generic SWMS'”' is a pre-prepared SWMS which seeks to address a range of hazards related to specific HRCW activities. For a generic SWMS to be acceptable, duty holders need to review it on-site and include all HRCW and risks associated with the activity before works commence.
What should be included in a SWMS
You should describe or name all of the following:
- the HRCW relevant to the SWMS being prepared – check all of the applicable HRCW activities listed on page 4 of the template
- the specific task/activity being undertaken, example: roof framing
- the hazard that has the potential to cause harm, example:where there is a risk of a person falling more than 2m or involving a trench or shaft more than 1.5m deep (see list of 19 HRCW activities on page 1 of the template)
- the controls to stop the harm from occurring, example: guard rails, scaffold, or catch platforms*
- who is responsible for implementing the controls, example: foreman.
*Refer to the hierarchy of control and Regulation 44 for the Falls hierarchy of control.
What may not be included
- References to other documents, such as Australian or Industry standards, as these may be subject to change and may not be easily obtained by employees.
- Risk matrix, risk scores are not legally required.
Further guidance on SWMS
WorkSafe Advisory Service
WorkSafe's advisory service is available between 7:30am and 6:30pm Monday to Friday. If you need more support, you can also contact WorkSafe using the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National) or the National Relay Service.