15th April, 2021
You will find method statements on nearly every construction project - often used along with risk assessments for specific tasks and activities carried out throughout the project. But what is a method statement document, and why are they used in construction?
A method statement is a document that describes how to do a task safely. You can think of a method statement like a set of instructions or a plan for the work. Method statements are also known as safe systems of work, safe work method statements or SWMS for short. And that's because they describe the method (or system) of work.
It describes in a logical sequence exactly how a job is to be carried out in a safe manner and without risks to health. It includes all the risks identified in the risk assessment and the measures needed to control those risks. This allows the job to be properly planned and resourced.
A method statement will usually contain a lot of information about a task or activity such as:
Your method statement doesn't have to be a lengthy document, but it should contain all the information you need to communicate how to do the work safely. The information should be clear and concise. At times it can be helpful to include drawings or pictures in your method statement to explain something and reduce confusion. For example, a plan could show the location of a hazard or where welfare facilities are.
You might get asked for a method statement with a risk assessment, and clients will often ask for a copy of your 'RAMS', which means risk assessments and method statements.
Method statements are often used with risk assessments - but are not the same. Method statements are usually only necessary for higher risk work, in addition to the risk assessments. The risk assessment will focus on the hazards and controlling those hazards. The method statement will provide additional information to employees about how to do the work, what order to follow, and the precautions needed at each step.
Unlike risk assessments, method statements are not required by law explicitly. But they can help you comply with legal requirements, as they help provide information and instruction.
While a method statement will usually be accompanied by one or more risk assessments, these documents are not the same. For more information read about the difference between risk assessments and method statements.
Rather than repeating the information already in a risk assessment, a method statement enhances the information gathered for the risk assessment and goes further in planning the sequence for the activity. For example, the risk assessment might say that supervision is required for the task. The method statement will then go into further details about who will be the supervisor, their contact details and qualifications etc.
Method statements can also help link all the documents relating to the task together. For example, it may reference a risk assessment, COSHH assessment, and permit to work for the activity.
As we mentioned earlier, method statements used to plan high-risk work. Where can we find lots of high-risk work? A construction site!
According to HSE statistics, in 2019/20, 40 construction workers lost their lives at work. In the same year, for every 100,000 workers in construction, 2,760 (nearly 3%) were injured, and 3,520 (3.5%) suffered work-related illness. The construction industry has a much higher injury rate (2.8%) than the average across all industries (1.8%). And, the types of injuries workers are at risk from in construction tend to be more severe.
What's all this got to do with method statements?
Where risks are high, more detailed planning is needed to manage the hazards and control those risks. Once you've done the risk assessment for the task, you can develop your method statement. The method statement will plan out the work in a logical sequence, providing information on the controls and precautions (that you identified in the risk assessments) required at each step.
The arrangements for carrying out demolition, dismantling or structural alteration must be recorded in writing before the work begins. This is usually achieved by means of a method statement that can be generated from a risk assessment. While not required by law, method statements are also prepared for many other construction activities and are proven to be an effective and practical way to help plan, manage and monitor construction work.
Another reason why method statements can be useful on construction projects is that construction work is so varied. In the construction industry, you finish one project and move on to the next. A new project often means a new location, a new team, and a different set of circumstances. Even if you are completing the same task, the site, the surrounding work and hazards will change from project to project.
Who you needed to report to, where the task gets done, and what's happening around you will often be different on each job. Your method statement can (and should) be updated to reflect these changes, so you can refer to this document to get the information needed for each project.
You can think of a method statement like a set of instructions. It is a detailed guide that explains the work you will be doing and how you plan to get it done safely. Method statements are used in construction to help manage high-risk activities that need careful planning and management.
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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