Safe Work Method Statements

Principal contractor

Under the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011, each construction project that is a project that involves construction work where the cost of the construction work is $250,000 or more must have a principal contractor. A principal contractor must obtain a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) from any contractor working for them before work commences. If there is no SWMS, the principal contractor must make arrangements for a SWMS to be prepared by the contractor. A principal contractor should put in place arrangements for ensuring the high risk construction work is performed safely in accordance with the SWMS. This is done by monitoring the implementation of the SWMS 'on the ground'. The Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 require the work health and safety management plan include specific arrangements for collecting, assessing, monitoring and reviewing the SWMS.

What information must be included in a SWMS

When preparing a SWMS the circumstances at the workplace that may affect the way in which the high risk construction work is carried out must be taken into account.

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; and,
  • describe how the control measures are to be implemented, monitored and reviewed.

A SWMS should also include:

  • the person conducting a business or undertaking's name, address and ABN (if they have one);
  • details of the person(s) responsible for ensuring implementation, monitoring and compliance with the SWMS;
  • the review date (if any); and,
  • if the work is being carried out at a construction project:
    • the name of the principal contractor;
    • the address where the high risk construction work will be carried out; and,
    • the date the SWMS was prepared and the date it was provided to the principal contractor.

A SWMS may also include the names of workers that have been consulted on the content of the SWMS, the date the consultation occurred and the signature of each worker acknowledging their participation in this consultation and the opportunity to discuss the proposed measures.

A SWMS should be short and focus on describing the specific hazards identified for the high risk construction work to be undertaken and the control measures to be put in place so the work is carried out safely. 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.

While there are other legislative requirements to ensure health and safety such as providing information, instruction and training, these details are not required to be demonstrated in a SWMS. This can be achieved in other ways by induction or task specific training documented in training registers or tool box meetings. 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.

Can a Generic SWMS be used?

It is important for a SWMS to reflect the specific circumstances of the workplace in which it will operate, 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 work health and safety 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 a SWMS

High risk construction work must be carried out in accordance with the SWMS. The person conducting a business or undertaking must put in place arrangements to ensure the SWMS is being complied with, for example workplace visits. 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. A person conducting a business or undertaking must also ensure a SWMS is reviewed and as necessary revised if the measures put in place to control risks to health and safety are revised.

Providing Information and Instruction

A person conducting a business or undertaking must ensure that all workers who will be involved in high risk construction work are provided with information and instruction so they:

  • understand the hazards and the risks arising from the work;
  • understand and implement the risk controls in a SWMS; and,
  • know what to do if the work is not being conducted in accordance with the SWMS.

For example, this information and instruction may be provided during general construction induction training, workplace specific or during a toolbox talk by principal contractor, contractor or subcontractor.

Where do I keep a SWMS

The SWMS should be kept at the workplace where the high risk construction work will be carried out. If this is not possible, then a SWMS should be kept at a location where it can be delivered to the workplace quickly. A SWMS can also be kept electronically.

The SWMS must be kept and be available for inspection until at least the high risk construction work is completed. Where a SWMS is revised, all versions should be kept.

If a notifiable incident occurs in relation to high risk construction work to which the SWMS relates, then the SWMS must be kept for at least two years from the occurrence of the notifiable incident. If the construction work at the workplace has ceased within that period then the person conducting a business or undertaking should keep the SWMS readily available for inspection.

Reviewing a SWMS

A SWMS must be reviewed regularly to make sure it remains effective. A SWMS must be reviewed (and revised if necessary) if relevant control measures are revised.

The review process should be carried out in consultation with workers (including contractors and subcontractors) who may be affected by the operation of the SWMS and their health and safety representatives who represented that work group at the workplace.

When a SWMS has been revised, the person conducting a business or undertaking must ensure all:

  • persons involved with the high risk construction work are advised that a revision has been made and how they can access the revised SWMS (for a construction project, the principal contractor should be given a copy of the revised SWMS);
  • persons who will need to change a work procedure or system as a result of the review are advised of the changes in a way that will enable them to implement their duties consistently with the revised SWMS; and,
  • workers that will be involved in the high risk construction work are provided with the relevant information and instruction that will assist them to understand and implement the revised SWMS.

SWMS template

The SWMS template outlines the information which must be included in a SWMS. The template also includes other information which should be included as best practice, for example who was consulted to prepare the SWMS. However, when adding more information to the SWMS consider the importance and relevance of the information and whether it will add unnecessary length or complexity to the document.

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