Safe Systems of Work
I have been told I need safe systems of work for a specific task. What is this and how do I develop one?
A safe system of work is a procedure that results from a systematic examination of a working process, that identifies hazards and specifies work methods designed either to eliminate the hazards or controls and minimises the relevant risks.
The legal background to this is the requirement, within the Health and Safety at Work Act, that:
- It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees and
- To provide and maintain plant and systems of work that are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health.
The phrase ‘reasonably practicable’ means a balance between the level of risk and the resources necessary to control it – the financial position of the employer is irrelevant within this equation.
Further regulations make specific requirements in respect of safe systems of work, for example those relevant to manual handling, use of hazardous substances and use of display screen equipment. Safe systems of work will frequently be addressed in the ‘Arrangements’ section of an organisation’s health and safety policy and within the risk assessment process.
Safe systems of work will be developed by a ‘Competent Person’ i.e. ‘a person with sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities’ to assist with key aspects of safety management and compliance.
Staff who are to be actively involved with carrying out the work also have a valuable role to play in the development of the system to ensure it is of practical benefit and that it will consequently be applied diligently.
All relevant staff must clearly understand the system of work and it is equally important that it is effectively communicated to others, e.g. contractors, who may become involved periodically.
Safe systems must be documented to provide an unequivocal reference point for all concerned including the employer. They may also prove essential if there is an inspection by enforcement agencies or if any proceedings arise from an accident.
The safe system of work should comprise three types of control:
- Technical – such as engineering controls such as guards.
- Behavioural – how individuals or groups should act in relation to the hazard.
- Procedural – specifying the exact nature of the task, including sequence, checks and key safety actions.
The system will be developed by an analysis and assessment of the risks inherent within the task and the requisite controls. Sources of information that may need to be consulted include reference to legislation, guidance notes, manufacturers information, company policy and relevant staff. Where risks of an extreme nature are involved, the safe system of work may be in the form of a ‘permit-to-work’, an extremely robust and detailed procedure including permissions and signatures.
Training is vital to ensure a clear understanding of the task, the system and all its associated requirements.
Finally, all safe systems of work need to be monitored regularly to ensure that they are fully observed and effective. Appropriate supervision is also, as ever, a strict requirement.