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SWMS's, Policies and Procedures

Businesses across Australia are at risk of on the spot fines and penalties if their work, health and safety (WHS) policies and procedures and their Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) don't meet the new WHS Acts requirements.

With each Australian state and territory moving closer to implementing the new national uniformed legislation into their businesses, this can be seen as a great opportunity to re-evaluate what documents are in place and update them to meet new WHS laws.

What is a workplace policy?

A workplace policy is a formal written document that is instituted by management of a business.

A workplace policy outlines business boundaries, protecting both employees and employers. If for example a business was putting together their new 'Workplace Health and Safety Policy'; this policy could include:

  • The businesses health and safety statement (why this topic is important to the business and their achievable goals)
  • The company's commitment to the policy (Why this policy is important to the company (Common law etc)
  • Methods of health and safety consultation in the workplace (who, when and where)
  • Who within the business has what responsibilities
  • Who the OHS representatives/management are
  • Breach of policy outcomes and rules
  • Related policies
  • Policy review date

Within workplace policies, specific information can be used including employee names and contact phone numbers due to the fact that policies must be reviewed periodically with their information updated continuously.

Workplace policies should be readily available to all who are affected by them including floor staff, supervisors, management, delivery personnel and the general public.

Some methods of making policies available to the correct people include:

  • Intranet
  • Internet
  • Newsletters
  • Staff notice boards
  • Stapled to pay slips

Workplace policies can cover topics such as:

  • Health and safety
  • Harassment
  • Discrimination
  • Employee benefits
  • Using company property
  • Company cars
  • Working alone or in isolation
  • Workplace smoking
  • Working from home
  • Accessing company funds
  • Working out of office dress code

Consequences of violating workplace policies can vary, depending on the policy and the outcome. For example, returning the company car with only half a tank of fuel may result in a warning or the employer being sent out to refuel the car, while a charge of workplace bullying would be accompanied with legal repercussions and/or suspension or termination of employment.
By outlining the consequences within your policies, an employer can fairly and equally enforce policy violations and protect their businesses from unlawful acts.

What is a workplace procedure?

A workplace procedure is a step by step description of how a task in your workplace is performed. This should be documented so employees may review the instructions at any time.

Some workplace procedures are simply passed from person to person which can encourage room for misunderstanding of how a task is to be completed. For example -

imagine if your company bought a new commercial grade printing machine. Imagine if only the manager read the instructions before throwing them away. He then passes the information that he learnt from the instructions verbally to the supervisor. The supervisor then passes those instructions onto the admin staff. The admin staff then pass those instructions onto the new employees and so on and so on. As you can see, word from mouth to mouth can travel a long way through a business. This goes to show that if each employee forgot or explained one operating point slightly differently, the newest employee on the receiving end could well be receiving not enough information of even the wrong information all together. Now imagine this scenario but with factory machinery, or an industrial deep oil fryer. You can quickly see how it could become a major safety concern. 

Workplace procedures are important for any business to run correctly and effectively. Well written workplace procedures also act as a fall back instructional guide to comprehend their roles and responsibilities within the workplace. This is a great tool for managers to use for work to continue without direct management involvement.

What is a Safe Work Method Statement?

A Safe Work Method Statement or a 'SWMS' is a document that lists all the types of high risk work that is to be or is being done in the workplace. A SWMS includes:

  • All the OH&S hazards and risks associating with the job
  • How the risks/hazards will be controlled
  • How such risk control measures will be implemented

Once a SWMS has been put together and implemented, it must be followed correctly. This shows that  SWMS's must be accurate and all staff effected by the job need to be aware of their working obligations.

One SWMS can be used to cover multiple jobs/tasks but must take into account the changing nature of the work environment.

It can be efficient and easier for employees if multiple SWMS's are in 'one' document if high risk work crosses paths. For example, the excavation of land whilst on an unstable site. By grouping these hazards/risks together, both jobs can be done safer as the workers can gain a better understanding of the hazards/risks around them.

States and territories





New South Wales




South Australia