How to develop Safe Systems of Work and why you need them

Safe Systems of Work (SSoWs) are designed to protect employees where workplace risks cannot be fully eliminated – a legal obligation for employers under the Health and Safety at Work Act, 1974.

SSoWs are a fundamental element of health and safety for many businesses. They recognise that risks do exist in certain tasks, and define the procedures to be undertaken when completing such work.

Sometimes these procedures are formalised – within an operating manual, for instance – but at other times they may involve verbal rather than documentary instruction. So how do you develop Safe Systems of Work for your business, and what are the consequences of failing to do so?

5 steps to develop Safe Systems of Work

You need to carry out five steps when formulating Safe Systems of Work:

1.     Assess the task

Look at all aspects of a task to identify where risk lies, and decide how it can be managed. Consider:

  • What is used to complete the task: plant, machinery, substances, electrical equipment, for example
  • Who is involved in the task: think about training needs, the potential for error, emergency situations
  • Where the task is carried out: indoors or outside, close to other processes
  • How the task is completed: existing procedures, frequency, potential for failures

Employees carrying out the work must be involved in this assessment so the information gathered is accurate and reliable, and reflects the level of danger involved.

2.     Identify the hazards

Note down the hazards in each element of the task, assess the risks, and eliminate them as far as possible.

3.     Define safe methods

To develop Safe Systems of Work you need to include the workers who will physically carry out the task to ensure that all hazards have been identified at each stage. The severity of risk will determine whether the SSoW needs to be formalised:

  • Very low risk: verbal instruction with written rules on safety
  • Low and moderate risk: written SSoW
  • High risk: written SSoW or a permit to work
  • Very high risk (could include working in small spaces, use of flammable materials, hazardous substances, or electrical equipment: permit to work

4.     Implement the system

Staff training is crucial when you develop Safe Systems of Work. You must ensure that workers are competent to complete the task(s) in question, that they and their supervisors understand the hazards involved, and how the SSOW manages the risks.

5.     Monitor the system

Ensuring workers comply with the SSoW is a key part of the process, and you’ll need to regularly check that the system remains effective in its objective of minimising risk. An SSoW is essentially a fluid document, however, and may need to be amended if circumstances change.

Acorn Health and Safety can help you develop detailed and reliable Safe Systems of Work. We’ll ensure compliance and provide professional guidance on health and safety in your workplace. Please contact one of our highly trained consultants for more information – we offer a number of health and safety services, and work with clients around the country.

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Neil Munro