Risk assessments and method statements are two of the most common types of health and safety documents. When carrying out an activity, one or both of these documents might be required. You may need many across a project, service or site. Especially in high-risk industries like construction, you will often be asked for risk assessments and method statements (RAMS) for your work.
These are two different types of document. But they are often found together. Both documents have the same overall purpose, to make sure that work can be carried out safely. They will probably cover the same task or activity. So why would you need both? What are the differences between risk assessments and method statements?
A risk assessment is simply, as the name suggests, an assessment of risk. It looks at the task or activity and asks how people could get hurt. What are the risks? How we control them? A risk assessment should be carried out before you do any work that presents a risk of injury or ill health.
Risk assessments are required by law, for all businesses. For any employer with more than 5 employees, you must record your risk assessments.
(6) Where the employer employs five or more employees, he shall record—
- the significant findings of the assessment; and
- any group of his employees identified by it as being especially at risk.
Not sure what a risk assessment looks like? Here's a free risk assessment template.
There are 5 steps to risk assessment:
You should carefully identify the hazards involved. Then assess the severity and likelihood of harm to establish the risk level present. Next, look at the controls you need in place to minimise the risk and carry out the work safely.
For more information on completing a risk assessment, check out the 5 steps to risk assessment.
Now we know that a risk assessment is an assessment of risk. What about method statements? Are they a statement of method? Well actually, that's not far off!
A method statement is part of a safe system of work. It can be thought of like instructions for how your work will be carried out safely. It details the sequence of the work, and management arrangements.
Method statements are usually found with a risk assessment. Risk assessment forms the basis of this document. A method statement will refer to risk. It will include the risks identified within the risk assessment and the control measures needed. In fact, these two documents support each other and will contain overlapping information.
Where a risk assessment tells you what the risks are and what the control measures will be. Method statements tells you how to complete the work, and in what order.
A method statement will set out the work in a logical sequence. It will explain to employees how to do the work, providing extra details. It will contain a time-frame and order. It may include site-specific rules and restrictions, such as the need for permits or training requirements.
Not sure what a method statement looks like? Here's a free method statement template.
Method statements are often split into sections including:
Your risk assessment might have identified the control measures needed to reduce the risk. The method statement gives further information. Like how to use the safety measures, who will be using them, and when.
If a risk assessment is a map, then a method statement is the directions. If the route is simple, you might not need directions. If the route is hard or complex, those step-by-step directions will stop you taking a wrong turn.
Method statements are not specifically required by law in the same way that risk assessments are. But they can help you to comply with the law and the need to carry out your work safely. They are used to provide information and instruction to your team, which is a legal requirement.
Before we look at the differences, it's easy to see why risk assessments and method statements can be confused. These documents have many similarities, they are both:
But it's important to understand the differences. Sometimes a risk assessment is all that's needed. Other times, a method statement may be required as well as (but not instead of) a risk assessment.
Risk assessments are required by law for all activities. They are a specific requirement of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations. Method statements help you comply with the law, but are not specifically needed in the same way.
3.—(1) Every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of
- the risks to the health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work; and
- the risks to the health and safety of persons not in his employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct by him of his undertaking,
Method statements are not always required. All work should be covered by a risk assessment, whereas method statements are usually for higher-risk, complex or unusual work.
Some businesses might not need method statements. Workplaces whos activities are low risk may never need to carry out a method statement. Other businesses in high-risk industries like construction will use method statements often.
Risk assessments should be carried out first and can be the basis for the method statement. A thorough risk assessment will let you know if an activity is high risk, or complex. It will tell you if you need a method statement and help you to develop one for the task.
This is usually achieved by means of a method statement that can be generated from a risk assessment. Such statements are prepared for many higher risk construction activities eg roof work.
Method statements will contain more detail, in cases where additional details are necessary. For example, where work activities must be done in a specific sequence to ensure safety.
Risk assessments are an assessment of risk, they tell you what controls are needed. A method statement will detail in what order those control measures will be used, and how to carry out the work safely.