Method statements are a type of health and safety document that detail how work will be carried out. A set of instructions for doing the work or activity safely. Most businesses will have been required to provide a method statement at some stage, but why do we need these documents and are they a legal requirement?
Every employer has legal health and safety responsibilities at work. They must provide a safe place of work. Employees have health and safety responsibilities too. To take care of themselves and others.
But where do method statements fit into all of this?
It is the law under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSWR) that every employer and self-employed shall carry out a risk assessment of any risks to the health and safety of employees or other persons. Risk assessments are so important they have a section just for them (Section 3). But a method statement is not a risk assessment, so what does the law say about method statements?
Find out more about what method statements are in what is a method statement and why are they used?
Well, method statements don’t have a section under the MHSWR, as risk assessments do. Method statements are not even mentioned under the MHSWR. So, if method statements are not a specific legal requirement, like risk assessments are, under the MHSWR, then we can just forget about them?
No, not really.
Although method statements don't have a section in the regulations and are not necessarily required for every work activity, they can help you to comply with the law. Method statements can be used to plan, instruct and inform. All requirements of health and safety law.
Heading back to the MHSWR, which applies to all workplaces. Section 5 requires employers to make appropriate arrangements for planning, organising and controlling work activities.
5.(1) Every employer shall make and give effect to such arrangements as are appropriate, having regard to the nature of his activities and the size of his undertaking, for the effective planning, organisation, control, monitoring and review of the preventive and protective measures.
Such arrangements can be detailed within a method statement document.
If we look back at the legal health and safety responsibilities of employers, we know that employers must provide safe systems of work. These systems can be procedures, control measures and instructions that are written in the method statements.
The Health and Safety at Work etc Act (HSWA) has a requirement under ‘General duties’ for employers to provide ‘such information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary’.
(c) the provision of such information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of his employees;
A method statement can be thought of as a set of instructions. Method statements provide information to employees about how the work should be done and the precautions to be taken. They would, therefore, come under the banner of ‘information and instruction’, and maybe needed, depending on the work being carried out. After all, you might know how to carry out a task safely, but a method statement can be used to communicate those arrangements with others.
Method statements can be used to write down and provide:
Method statements are especially useful where there are complex procedures or many steps to take. Workers might know how to carry out a task safely. They may have had the training and got the certificate. But having this information written down can help to make sure that all the steps are followed in the correct sequence and prevent mistakes.
Each job might be slightly different. So the method statement can also detail any changes is hazards or controls to adapt to those differences. Again, this will help to comply with the legal requirement to provide safe systems of work. For a system to be safe, it needs to adapt to the conditions of the work.
Whether you need a method statement will usually be a consideration of the risk level, how complex or unusual the work is. Higher risk work may require extra information and instruction, and this can be delivered in the form of a method statement.
Safety method statements are often used in the construction industry, and a method statement is often required by clients or principal contractors before certain activities can commence on their sites or projects. The contractor carrying out the work will need to provide a copy of their risk assessment and method statement, so the safety measures and safe systems of work can be assessed before the work is allowed to go ahead.
Method statements can often form part of a requirement for health and safety accreditation schemes and health and safety management systems. For example, a requirement of PAS91 (standardised construction pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ)) under question C4-Q12 is to provide evidence of ‘relevant risk assessments and for developing and implementing safe systems of work (method statements)’.
While they may not be a specific legal requirement, method statements are a way of complying with the law by making appropriate arrangements for preventive and protective measures and providing information and instruction to the workforce.