PCBUs, including self-employed persons, must prepare a safe work method statement (SWMS) before commencing high risk construction work (HRCW).

Terms used in the development of a SWMS include:

  • hazard - something in, or that may be in, the work environment that has the potential to cause harm (injury, illness, or death) to a person.
  • risk - the chance (or likelihood) that a hazard will cause harm to a person.
  • control measure - a thing, work process or system of work that controls the hazard or risk.

High risk construction work

There are 18 activities that are classed as high risk construction work due to the significant potential for serious harm that is often associated with those activities.

The 18 HRCW activities are work that:

  • involves a risk of a person falling more than 3 metres
  • is carried out on a telecommunication tower
  • involves demolition of an element of a structure that is load-bearing or otherwise related to the physical integrity of the structure
  • involves, or is likely to involve, the disturbance of asbestos
  • involves structural alterations or repairs that require temporary support to prevent collapse
  • is carried out in or near a confined space
  • is carried out in or near a shaft or trench with an excavated depth greater than 1.5 metres; or a tunnel
  • involves the use of explosives
  • is carried out on or near pressurised gas distribution mains or piping
  • is carried out on or near chemical, fuel or refrigerant lines
  • is carried out on or near energised electrical installations or services
  • is carried out in an area that may have a contaminated or flammable atmosphere
  • involves tilt-up or precast concrete
  • 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
  • is carried out in an area at a workplace in which there is any movement of powered mobile plant
  • is carried out in an area in which there are artificial extremes of temperature
  • is carried out in or near water or other liquid that involves a risk of drowning
  • involves diving work.

Preparing a SWMS

A high risk construction work SWMS is a document, prepared in consultation with all relevant persons, that accounts for the workplace-specific circumstances that may affect the way in which the high risk construction work is done.

Your SWMS needs to:

  • identify the hazards and risks of HRCW
  • describe to workers in clear terms how following control measures will manage those risks.

A sample template is available to help you to prepare your SWMS for HRCW.

Do I need to prepare a SWMS?

The duty to prepare a SWMS before commencing HRCW rests with the PCBU of the workers (or the self-employed person) undertaking the HRCW.

Example

A self-employed excavator operator is to complete an excavation near a public footpath. The person is required to prepare a SWMS because the work involves risk to the health and safety of pedestrians, due to the movement of powered mobile plant (HRCW).

However, in practice there will often be multiple PCBUs to whom that duty applies (e.g. the builder and sub-contractors). In such cases, the sub-contractor is normally best positioned to understand and control the hazards and risks associated with the types of HRCW they are engaged to perform.

A builder may agree to prepare the SWMS on behalf of or in conjunction with their sub-contractor, providing this is done in consultation with affected workers and their health and safety representatives (HSRs).

The WHS Regulations apply to each one of these PCBUs, as far as they control the work. Each PCBU must, so far as is reasonably practicable, manage the risks to the health and safety of workers, including contractors who are within the PCBUs control and anyone else affected by their work.

Example

A builder and a bricklaying sub-contractor need to ensure a SWMS is prepared because their planned works involve temporary propping to prevent structural collapse (HRCW). The bricklaying contractor prepares the SWMS because they are most familiar with the activity, hazards, risks and potential controls; the builder then reviews the SWMS to make sure it is adequate before allowing the HRCW to commence.

What do I need to include in a SWMS?

As a minimum, the SWMS must:

  • identify the work that is HRCW
  • state the hazards and risks to health and safety from that work
  • clearly detail the measures selected to control those risks
  • describe how the risk control measures will be implemented
  • take into account the circumstances at the workplace that may affect the way in which the work is carried out
  • if the work is carried out in connection with a construction project, the WHS management plan at the workplace
  • be set out and expressed in a way that is readily accessible and understandable to the workers who use it.

The SWMS should also identify the:

  • date and location the HRCW is to be performed
  • person/s responsible for ensuring selected risk controls are installed and maintained
  • names of workers consulted in the document’s preparation.

While there are broader duties to control all workplace hazards and risks, only hazards and risks that are directly related to prescribed HRCW activities need be included in a SWMS.

Example

Workers are installing a roof and there is a risk of persons falling more than three metres.

As this is HRCW, it must be addressed in a SWMS. There are also other hazards and risks associated with the work, such as sun exposure and manual handling. Such hazards and risks must still be appropriately managed, however, they don’t need to be included in the SWMS because manual handling and sun exposure are not prescribed HRCW.

Duty holders may still choose to address non-HRCW hazards and risks within a SWMS. But this should not compromise the intended focus on HRCW activities.

If too much additional information is presented, the document may stop being effective in identifying and communicating how the HRCW risks will be controlled.

How do I develop a SWMS?

This is a typical approach to developing a SWMS:

  • assemble the relevant workers, their HSRs and supervisors; ideally at the location of proposed works
    • there is a legal duty to consult affected workers and their HSRs when identifying hazards or measures to control risk
  • review the proposed works and consider any site specific factors with potential to impact the works
  • ensure all proposed HRCW activities are identified and the hazards and risks are listed
  • select the risk control measures, and describe them alongside each of the hazards and risks that are listed.

When selecting risk control measures for HRCW, first seek to eliminate that risk so far as is reasonably practicable (eg by having overhead powerlines de-energised).

If a risk cannot be eliminated, it must be reduced so far as is reasonably practicable, by utilising the hierarchy of controls, and implementing one (or a combination) of the following:

  • implementing any hazard-specific controls required by law
  • substituting with a lower risk activity, procedure, plant, process or substance (eg using scaffold in preference to ladders)
  • isolating persons from the hazard (eg fence off areas for mobile plant operation)
  • using engineering controls (eg trench shields, guard rails, mechanical ventilation).

This process should be used to control any risks that are not covered by specific duties in other parts of the WHS Regulations. For how to control risks arising from hazards such as manual handling, noise, falls, confined spaces, plant and machinery, hazardous substances, asbestos and lead, see those sections of the WHS Regulations.

If after implementation of the above controls so far as is reasonably practicable, a risk to health or safety still remains, reduce that risk, so far as is reasonably practicable, by using administrative controls (eg safety training, work instructions, warning signs, supervision).

If after implementation of administrative controls so far as is reasonably practicable, a risk to health or safety still remains, reduce that risk, so far as is reasonably practicable, by providing personal protective equipment (PPE) (eg hearing protection, high visibility clothing, respiratory protection) or a combination of appropriate PPE.

Example

A contractor wins a job to restore a building fa├žade; it is known there will be a risk of persons falling more than three metres (HRCW) so a SWMS will be required. The contractor consults with workers while developing the SWMS.

The group identifies:

  • part of the work can be completed from the ground using paint scraper and roller poles, therefore partially eliminating the risk of falls, however, a risk still remains
  • where poles can’t be used, scaffold will be used in preference to ladders, further reducing the risk of falls by substituting a more effective engineering control
  • a risk remains that persons could fall more than three metres if the scaffold is misused or any ‘un-authorised’ scaffold modifications occur
  • risks will be further reduced by providing training to workers at a toolbox meeting, posting warning signs and ensuring workers are supervised appropriately (ie administrative controls).

Can I use a 'generic' SWMS?

'Generic' is a term widely used in industry to describe a pre-prepared SWMS which seeks to address a range of hazards that will potentially be encountered by workers during a particular work activity.

A generic SWMS is not acceptable unless further work is done to make it 'site-specific'. This can be done by reviewing and revising it as necessary with regard to its suitability for the specific environment and circumstances in which the HRCW will be performed. Any such review and revision process should follow the steps outlined in the 'How do I prepare a SWMS' section.

Additional duties in relation to SWMS

Duty holders (builders and sub-contractor) must ensure that once a SWMS has been developed and implemented, the HRCW to which it relates is performed in accordance with that SWMS.

If a duty holder becomes aware that there is noncompliance with the SWMS, they must stop the HRCW immediately or as soon as it is safe to do so, and not allow it to resume until the SWMS is complied with or reviewed and revised as necessary.

The SWMS must be reviewed and, if necessary, revised whenever the HRCW changes or if there is an indication that control measures are not adequately controlling the risks, including after any incident that occurs during HRCW.

Record keeping

A copy of the SWMS must be retained for the duration of the HRCW.

The SWMS should be kept available at the location of the HRCW, where it can be readily referenced by affected persons, or reviewed and revised as necessary.

SWMS may be stored in an electronic format (eg on a smartphone) so the persons doing the work have ready access to the document for reference.

Consideration should also be given to the format’s capacity for revision (if required), and how appropriate worker consultation in the SWMS preparation process might be demonstrated.

Further information

For further information and advice on complying with legislative requirements, call us on 1300 365 255. You can speak to one of our friendly Workplace Advisors, who can provide you with WHS information, practical advice, support, and even visit you at your workplace.

Safe Work Method Statement Compliance Program 2020 Audit Report

Safe work method statement for high risk construction work - information sheet - Safe Work Australia

Construction work - work of minor nature information sheet - Safe Work Australia

Workplace induction for construction workplaces - information sheet - Safe Work Australia

Model Code of Practice: Construction work - Safe Work Australia

Fact Sheet – Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) - Office of the Federal Safety Commission