Notify WorkSafe Call 1300 366 322
Notify WorkSafe Call 1300 366 322

Safe work method statements (SWMS)

A SWMS is a document that sets out:

  • the high risk construction work activities to be carried out at a workplace
  • the hazards arising from these activities
  • the measures to be put in place to control the risks.

One SWMS can be used for work that involves multiple high risk construction work activities: for example, a work activity that requires using powered mobile plant, working at heights of more than 2 metres, and working adjacent to a road used by traffic other than pedestrians.

Which activities require a SWMS

A SWMS must be in place for the 18 high risk construction work activities defined in the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2012. These include work that:

  • involves the use of explosives
  • involves, or is likely to involve, disturbing asbestos
  • is carried out on or near energised electrical installations or services
  • involves structural alteration or repair that requires temporary support to prevent collapse.

Find the full list at Safe Work Australia (see resources below).

SWMS vs JSAs

A SWMS is generally different from other documents that focus on specific tasks or processes, such as a job safety analysis or a safe operating procedure.

A SWMS is not intended to be a procedure; rather, it is a tool to help supervisors and workers confirm and monitor the measures required to control these job-specific high risk construction hazards in the workplace.

Preparing a SWMS

A SWMS must be prepared before the high risk construction work begins.

A principal contractor must obtain the SWMS before the high risk  construction work begins.

The person responsible for carrying out the high risk construction work is best placed to prepare the SWMS, in consultation with workers who will be directly engaged in the work. Generally this means a SWMS is prepared by the builder for their workers, or by the subcontractor for their workers and themselves.

The principal contractor, builder and subcontractors should consult with each other to determine who is in the best position to prepare the SWMS.

Managers, contractors, leading hands and workers should all be involved in developing a SWMS.

Why consult

Consulting workers is important so they understand the detail of the SWMS, and what they are required to do to implement and maintain risk controls. Sharing information and using the knowledge and experience of workers will help make sure the work is performed in accordance with the SWMS.

If you have a health and safety representative (HSR) at the workplace, consult with them when developing the SWMS, too.

Information that must be included in a SWMS

A SWMS must:

  • identify the work that is high risk construction work
  • specify hazards relating to the high risk construction work and the risks to health and safety
  • describe the measures to be implemented to control the risks so the work is carried out safely
  • describe how the control measures are to be implemented, monitored and reviewed.

A lengthy, overly detailed SWMS can be difficult to understand, apply at the workplace, monitor or review.

A SWMS must be easily understood by workers, including those from non-English speaking backgrounds. For example, pictures or diagrams may be a more effective way of communicating information.

If the SWMS is based on a workplace-specific risk assessment, evidence of the risk assessment may be required by the regulator or for auditing purposes but does not need to be detailed in the SWMS.

Make the SWMS specific

It is important for a SWMS to reflect the specific circumstances of the workplace in which it will operate: that is, the workplace where the high risk construction work is to be carried out, the work environment and the workers carrying out the work.

A generic SWMS used at different workplaces may not meet the requirements of the WHS laws unless it has first been reviewed to take into account the hazards and risks at the specific workplace and amended as necessary.

One SWMS can be prepared to cover a variety of tasks if it takes into account the changing nature of the work environment. Alternatively, a separate SWMS can be prepared for each high risk construction work activity. In this case, consider situations where different activities impact each other; for example, using powered mobile plant during the construction of a tunnel.

Implementing and reviewing the SWMS

High risk construction work must be carried out in accordance with the SWMS. So the PCBU must put in place arrangements to ensure the SWMS is being complied with. This could be as simple as visiting the work site.

If work is not being carried out in accordance with the SWMS, then it must stop immediately or as soon as it is safe to do so.

In these cases, the SWMS should be reviewed and if necessary, revised to reflect the safest way to carry out the work that is reasonably practicable.

Work must not resume until the work can be carried out in accordance with the SWMS.

The PCBU must also ensure a SWMS is reviewed and as necessary revised if the measures put in place to control WHS risks are revised.

Keep the SWMS onsite

Keep the SWMS at the workplace where the high risk construction work will be carried out.

If this isn’t possible, then keep it where it is readily accessible to any worker carrying out the high risk work.

A SWMS can also be kept electronically.

Resources

WorkSafe Tasmania resources

Safety in Construction Kit

Construction tools and templates

Other resources

Construction: Safe Work Australia (external link)

Updated: 29th October 2019