Does your business need a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS)?

One of the mandates outlined by the Work Health and Safety (also referred to as Occupational Health and Safety) legislation is a risk management tool by the name of Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS). This tool generally identifies the hazards and risks associated with the steps in job task and list of controls in relation to the hazards and risks. The tool might be similar to Job Safety Analysis (JSA), however, Safe Work Australia (2014) states that a SWMS is different from JSA because it is not expected to be a procedure but rather a tool to assist supervisors and workers to verify and review the control measures needed at the workplace. Person Conducting Business or Undertaking (PCBU) is required to provide this for jobs which are classified as high risk construction work (Work Health and Safety Regulation 2017).

What is a high-risk construction work?

WHS Regulation 2017, Clause 291 outlines the meaning of high-risk construction work:

"high risk construction work" means construction work that:

(a) involves a risk of a person falling more than 2 metres, or 

(b) is carried out on a telecommunication tower, or 

(c) involves demolition of an element of a structure that is load-bearing or otherwise related to the physical integrity of the structure, or 

(d) involves, or is likely to involve, the disturbance of asbestos, or 

(e) involves structural alterations or repairs that require temporary support to prevent collapse, or 

(f) is carried out in or near a confined space, or 

(g) is carried out in or near-- 

(i) a shaft or trench with an excavated depth greater than 1.5 metres, or 

(ii) a tunnel, or 

(h) involves the use of explosives, or 

(i) is carried out on or near pressurised gas distribution mains or piping, or 

(j) is carried out on or near chemical, fuel or refrigerant lines, or 

(k) is carried out on or near energised electrical installations or services, or 

(l) is carried out in an area that may have a contaminated or flammable atmosphere, or 

(m) involves tilt-up or precast concrete, or 

(n) 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, or 

(o) is carried out in an area at a workplace in which there is any movement of powered mobile plant, or 

(p) is carried out in an area in which there are artificial extremes of temperature, or 

(q) is carried out in or near water or other liquid that involves a risk of drowning, or 

(r) involves diving work

What is a construction work then?

WHS Regulation 2017, Clause 289 states "construction work" means any work carried out in connection with the construction, alteration, conversion, fitting-out, commissioning, renovation, repair, maintenance, refurbishment, demolition, decommissioning or dismantling of a structure.

Construction Work includes:

  • Any installation or testing carried out in connection with an activity referred to the above activity

  • the removal from the workplace of any product or waste resulting from demolition

  • the prefabrication or testing of elements, at a place specifically established for the construction work, for use in construction work

  • the assembly of prefabricated elements to form a structure, or the disassembly of prefabricated elements forming part of a structure

  • the installation, testing or maintenance of an essential service in relation to a structure

  • any work connected with an excavation

  • any work connected with any preparatory work or site preparation (including landscaping as part of site preparation) carried out in connection with an activity referred to the above activity

  • an activity referred to the above, that is carried out on, under or near water, including work on buoys and obstructions to navigation

Construction Work does not include:

  • the manufacture of plant

  • the prefabrication of elements, other than at a place specifically established for the construction work, for use in construction work

  • the construction or assembly of a structure that once constructed or assembled is intended to be transported to another place

  • testing, maintenance or repair work of a minor nature carried out in connection with a structure

  • mining activities or petroleum activities


It is essential that PCBU’s prepare a SWMS for any high-risk construction work cited above, prior to commencing work. The PCBU must put in place arrangements to ensure the SWMS is being complied with (i.e. workplace visits, toolbox talks) and 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. The SWMS should be kept at the workplace where the high-risk construction work will be carried out.

For all other work, SWMS’s are not necessary, however PCBU’s must still be mindful in their approach and ensure they manage risks to health and safety appropriately. Regardless of if the work is high risk or not, SWMS's can be a valuable tool that help supervisors and workers assess risks and monitor the control measures required at the workplace.

SWMS is an effective risk management control that demonstrates implementation of safe systems at work, assisting the PCBU in complying with their legal obligations.

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