The definitions of safe system of work that have been provided are frequently insufficient or problematic. For instance, prior to describing components that may be a part of such a system, some sources define a safe system of work as an “obligation” under the law.
“A safe system of work is a formal procedure which results from systematic examination of a task in order to identify all the hazards,” for instance, is one definition and usage of the term “safe system of work.” It defines it in terms of safe methods for minimizing risks and eliminating hazards.
A procedure for the proper use of a piece of equipment, such as a forklift, is an illustration of a safe system of work under this definition. These definitions are very specific. Standardized work procedures are at the bottom of the risk control hierarchy and are only one of the components that can contribute to workplace safety. While procedures can be a planned way of working or a “system of work,” they do not make the system as a whole safe.
A much broader focus is implied by the “safe system of work” mentioned in general duties clauses than by a single task method statement. It takes into account the context and goals of the workplace, as suggested by the general risk management process, as well as a variety of relevant tasks, equipment, policies and procedures, training, and competencies, workplace culture, organizational structure, and leadership.
In addition, it is particularly challenging to define a safe system of work as a task procedure in complex investigations and legal cases such as those involving psychological injury. Psychological injury cases, like many other workplace incidents, involve numerous interconnected failures at all levels of a workplace system (such as poor return-to-work practices, inadequate supervision, and lack of support). In situations like these, a safe work system cannot be established through a procedure or set of rules.
What makes an excellent SSOW (Safe System Of Work)?
A successful SSOW must:
- Be made for a specific task or activity
- Identify all hazards associated with the task or activity
- Describe each step necessary to safely complete the task or activity
- Be easily accessible to all who require it.
Hiring health and safety experts to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment of the task or activity is the first step in designing an SSOW. In order to ensure the safety of your staff, this initial assessment will identify hazards and highlight those that necessitate secure work procedures.
Engaging with employees who are involved in the activity or task would be beneficial for the health and safety professional conducting the risk assessment to ensure that no hazards are missed. Because they are in the best position to explain how they work and the risks they face, a good SSOW is designed in close collaboration with the employees who perform the tasks.
A risk assessment might, for instance, point out that warehouse workers often have to lift very heavy boxes as part of their job. Consequently, unless they are assisted in safely completing the tasks, employees run the risk of developing long-term health issues. A health and safety professional can observe and evaluate what needs to be done here to create a bespoke SSOW that ensures everyone performs their tasks safely.
It is essential to keep in mind that creating an SSOW on its own is not sufficient. Even if an SSOW is brilliant, it is useless unless everyone it affects knows about it and can use it in their roles.
Before performing tasks within their scope, employees must be aware of SSOWs. By writing Safe Systems of Work in clear language and including annotated images, diagrams, and anything else that helps make them as clear as possible, they can be made more accessible.
How do I establish a SSOW?
Safe system of work can be created in five basic steps.
Step 1 – Task assessment: You should start by looking at how your company works to know where safe work systems need to be made.
A comprehensive assessment of the task that will be covered by the system should serve as the foundation for a safe work system. Therefore, it is essential to examine and document all aspects of a particular job or task to ensure that no aspect of the task is overlooked.
Keep a record of:
- What is used (materials, machinery, plant and equipment, and electrical sources)
- Potential sources of error (possible human error, shortcuts, malfunctioning equipment)
- Where the work is done (the working environment and the requirements for its protection); and
- How the job is done (procedures, task frequency, and training requirements).
This evaluation should be carried out by supervisory staff with the assistance of workers who have a thorough understanding of the activity. This ensures that supervisors’ presumptions about work methods are not misplaced and that the produced system of work is safe, effective, and practical.
Furthermore, it is required by law to consult with workers who are either directly or indirectly exposed to risks. Workers may be in the best position to assist in the development of a safe work environment.
Step 2 – Risk identification and assessment: Following the production of a comprehensive overview of the task, the next step is to carry out a risk assessment because the law requires employers to carry out a suitable and sufficient assessment of all risks that employees and others may be exposed to. This requires listing the components of the task, and for each component:
- Determining the potential causes of harm
- Assessing the probability of the damage happening given the protections you have set up
- Whenever necessary, putting in place additional safeguards to bring the risk down to the lowest possible level.
Depending on the nature of the task, job, or operation, you will use a specific method of analysis.
- Formal hazard analysis methods like a hazard and operability (HAZOP) study, fault tree analysis (FTA), or failure modes and effects analysis should be taken into consideration if the subject at hand has a high loss potential.
- A simpler strategy, such as job safety analysis (JSA), may be used if the potential loss is lower.
Step 3 – Defining safe procedures: If hazards and risks cannot be eliminated, procedures to guarantee a safe working environment must be developed.
Managers or supervisors must give instructions. A safe work system doesn’t let your employees come up with their own.
Depending on the level of risk, different jobs will require different kinds of safe systems. A very low-risk job, for instance, may only require workers to adhere to a straightforward set of safety guidelines or a previously agreed-upon guide (which may or may not be written). On the other hand, a formal written permit to work system may be required for a job with a very high risk.
A written or verbal explanation of the chosen method is possible. A general guide to the risk level and safe system type required is as follows:
- Very high — Work permit
- High — Written safe system or permit
- Moderate — Written safe system
- Low — Written safe system
- Very low — Verbal instruction (with written backup such as brief written safety rules)
Documented methods should be written in a style that is both understandable and uncomplicated. It’s a good idea to show safe work systems as simple, easy-to-read summary sheets that explain everything workers need to know to do the job safely. A typical safe system of work template should cover, regardless of the method:
- How to set up the task safely and obtain any necessary authorization
- The prerequisites that must be met before work can begin
- The essential steps and potential dangers to be aware of
- The safe working methods that have been approved, if necessary, how to get to and from the task area
- How to dispose of waste or equipment after the task is finished
Step 4 – Carrying out the framework: Safe frameworks of work might be compelling if appropriately carried out and kept up with. They are:
Your employees need to be trained in order to ensure that safe work procedures are followed consistently. They must:
- Receive sufficient instruction on how to carry out the procedure correctly
- be capable of performing the work safely
- Be aware of the systems and dangers that safe methods aim to reduce or eliminate.
Everyone needs to understand the system’s necessity and the role it plays in preventing accidents. As a result, specific training might include:
- The need for the safe system;
- What goes into the work;
- The uncovered dangers; and
- The safety measures that have been chosen.
To keep up with changing conditions or accidents, safe work systems must be audited and updated frequently.
Step 5 – Keeping an eye on the system: Your system needs to be used on every occasion. Monitoring this effectively is necessary – regularly checking to see if the system is still appropriate for the job and is being followed. After an accident, system checks alone are not sufficient.
Some easy questions to ask are:
- Do laborers actually find the framework functional?
- Are the established procedures being followed?
- Are these methods still working?
- Have there been any progressions that require the framework to be reconsidered?
Keep in mind that a created system that is not followed is not a safe work system. Always look for and solve problems.
Importantly, if the system is to be followed and work is to be done safely, there must always be enough supervision. The worker’s experience, the complexity of the task, and the risks involved will all influence the level of supervision required.