8th July, 2021
Most businesses will have needed to provide a method statement at some stage, but why do we need these documents and are they a legal requirement? If so, under what regulations are they required? In this post, we ask, what does the law say about method statements?
A method statement is a type of health and safety document that details how a work task will be carried out. It's a set of instructions for doing the work or activity safely. And most businesses will be required to provide a method statement at some stage, but why? Does the law require you to write method statements, or do clients just like you to them? And are you breaking the law if you don't?
Every employer has legal health and safety responsibilities at work. They must provide a safe place of work. They must prevent workers and others from coming to harm during work. And employees have health and safety responsibilities too. To take care of themselves and others.
But where do method statements fit into all of this?
Well, health and safety laws extend, in many cases, to the types of documents you need to create, or assessments you need to carry out, or surveys you need to do. For example, 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). So we know that risk assessments are a legal requirement.
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 aren't mentioned at all under the MHSWR. So, if method statements are not a specific legal requirement, like risk assessments are, under the MHSWR, then can you forget about them?
No, not really. And especially not if you carry out high-risk work activities, like construction.
Although you won't find a section dedicated to method statements in the regulations, and they are not necessarily required for every work activity, method statements can help you to comply with the law. You can use method statements to plan, instruct and inform. And these are all requirements of health and safety law.
You can use method statements to make appropriate arrangements. 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.
- (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. -- The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 - Health and safety arrangements
You need to plan your work and make appropriate arrangements. And of course, if it's a legal requirement to do this, then you need evidence to show you have complied. The best way to do this is to document it, and if you employ five or more people, then legally, you must document it. You can detail, record and evidence such arrangements within a method statement document.
You can use method statements to plan safe systems of work. 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. And this is information that you can write into your method statements.
- the provision and maintenance of plant and systems of work that are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health;
You can use method statements to provide information and instructions. 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’.
- 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, it provides information to employees about how to do the work safely and the precautions they need to take. Method statements would, therefore, come under the banner of ‘information and instruction’. This doesn't mean that method statements are needed for every task, but they can be helpful for higher risk or complex activities. 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. Or to break a complicated activity down into a safe sequence of events.
Method statements can be used to write down and provide:
Method statements are especially useful where there are difficult procedures involved 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 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 in 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 and how complicated 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.
Safe work method statements are often used in the construction industry, and a method statement might be asked for 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 will usually 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)’.
So 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.
This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.
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