How to write a Safe System of Work

Tuesday May 25, 2021

It is every employer’s duty to minimise health and safety risks in the workplace. As we’re sure you know, regular and detailed risk assessments are the best place to start. Most of the time, you will be able to implement relatively simple measures to avoid the risks that you identify.

However, there may be cases when a single task carries multiple or severe risks. This is where you need a Safe System of Work.

What is a Safe System of Work?

A Safe System of Work (or SSoW) is a set of procedures designed to make a specific task as safe as possible. Typically it will take the form of a detailed step-by-step guide, taking into account the people, equipment and materials involved. By providing an in-depth template for performing the task, a SSoW aims to reduce the likelihood of accidents or injuries caused by human error.

Examples of Safe Systems of work include:

  • A set of operating instructions for a dangerous piece of machinery
  • A safety checklist for employees working at height or in a confined space
  • A step-by-step guide to dealing with a certain hazardous substance

It is best to formalise a Safe System of Work as a written document. This allows you to refer to it in the event of an accident. You can also reinforce the message orally or by displaying a list of do’s and don’ts.

Are Safe Systems of Work a legal requirement?

Technically speaking, the law does not require you to create a formal SSoW. However, most people interpret section 2(a) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 as a reference to the need for Safe Systems of Work. It states that employers must “provide and maintain systems of work that are practical, safe and without risks to health”.

Failure to devise and implement a SSoW can be a significant factor in health and safety prosecutions. In a recent case, a port was fined after an employee was seriously injured by a truck. The HSE found that the port had failed to take the necessary steps to keep pedestrians and vehicles separate. It noted that this should have been done “through safe systems of work that are clear and well supervised”.

When do I need a Safe System of Work?

There are several situations in which a SSoW may be required:

  • Your risk assessment finds a hazard that you cannot minimise through caution alone.
  • Employees complain that they feel unsafe when performing a certain task.
  • Several incidents or near misses are caused by the same task.
  • There is a change in the safety legislation covering the work you do.

How do I write a Safe System of Work?

There is no set format for a SSoW, but you should always include the following information:

  • A SSoW reference number. This should be cross-referenced with the relevant risk assessment.
  • The name(s) of the person writing the SSoW and assuming responsibility for its implementation.
  • A description of the task. You should describe in detail each step, along with the relevant hazards and the methods you propose to minimise them.
  • A list of any protective equipment required to complete the task safely.
  • The date when you will review the SSoW.

How do I implement a Safe System of Work?

Creating a Safe System of Work is only the beginning. All staff should be given formal training based on the SSoW, as well as informal reminders whenever necessary. You should record these training sessions and ask employees to sign a document confirming that they understand the new guidelines.

It is also important to monitor employees to make sure that they are following the SSoW. If it proves ineffective, or if the nature of your work changes significantly, a new SSoW should be created.

This can be a time-consuming process, but it pays to do it properly. If you’re struggling to prepare a Safe System of Work, don’t hesitate to ask us for help. Our experts can support you every step of the way, from the initial risk assessment right through to designing a bespoke SSoW. Get in touch today to get started.

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