What Does Controlling by Safe Systems of Work Mean?

Thursday July 28, 2022

In 2021, 1.7 million workers reported ongoing suffering from work-related ill health. A further 441,000 sustained a non-fatal injury at work. 142 people even lost their lives.

Staying safe in the workplace is all about managing and minimising risks. This could involve certain procedures or practices that deal with any dangers present in the company, and often reflect that company’s attitude to hazards. Whether it’s providing safety measures for operating difficult machinery, or simply maintaining hygiene and welfare in shared spaces, employers have a duty of care to uphold with their teams in the workplace, and controlling that care through proper preparation and planning is crucial to maintaining a safe work environment. Enter: Safe Systems of Work.

What Is an SSoW?

A Safe System of Work (SSoW) is defined as a structured process designed by health and safety experts to reduce the risk of harm in instances where employees face unavoidable hazards at work. 

A risk assessment for work activities would generally suffice, as long as the people responsible for carrying out said activities are informed of the risks and hazards. However, if the risk assessment shows that there are still significant or high risks remaining even with control measures put in place, then an SSoW is necessary.

Health and safety legislation requires employers to have these systems in place to avoid risks to their team’s health and safety, which managers and leaders have a legal and moral duty to look out for and protect.

Examples of SSoW

An SSoW will typically be in written form, detailing a step-by-step guide that takes the people, equipment, and materials involved into account. Examples include:

  • A set of operating instructions for a piece of equipment or machinery.
  • A safety checklist for employees working in a confined space.
  • A guide to handling a hazardous substance.

Usually, it’s beneficial for employers to ensure they produce these in writing as a formal document. Having a physical copy of safety measures to refer to not only allows for quick and easy access in the case of an emergency, but it also enables employees to get to grips with proper preventative measures and familiarise themselves with what to do should an accident occur.

While there is no set format for an SSoW, there are pieces of information that the process should always include, whatever format it comes in:

  • A reference number, so that employees can easily refer to the SSoW in question.
  • The employer responsible for writing and implementing the SSoW (including their signature).
  • Any relevant details of the tasks and hazards involved, with the appropriate steps and methods required to deal with them.
  • Any protective equipment or materials involved in the process and its associated safety measures.
  • A review date to assess the SSoW, which should at least be an annual occurrence.

Am I Legally Required to Have an SSoW?

Health and safety policies are required by law. Two key pieces of legislation exist that outline the need to provide and uphold systems in the workplace that protect members of staff:

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act (HSWA) 1974: This states that employers must, ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’, prepare and maintain statements outlining their safety policy and the methods in place that ensures it’s correctly followed through.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSWR) 1999: This states that employers have a legal requirement to make and put in place safety procedures in the workplace. It also requires that these procedures are recorded and documented in cases where the workforce exceeds five people.

Who is responsible for writing an SSoW?

Safety legislation states that the employer is responsible for writing, recording and reviewing safety arrangements.

However, although it is the duty of the employer, they can always utilise the assistance of another employee to help them with processing or wording certain policies if necessary. With larger companies, employers might even choose to outsource or hire in a health and safety expert or manager to ensure the policies are correctly implemented.

Why is it important to follow an SSoW?

Not only is it a legal requirement, but developing an SSoW is crucial to preventing unnecessary risks and minimising the chances of accidents happening. The process significantly helps to support employee welfare, which is a must in itself but actually also serves to benefit the organisation as a whole; safer environments lead to less accidents, meaning there is a decreased occupational health cost for the employer to cover, greater employee retention and satisfaction, less employee downtime, and lower levels of retraining.

Not only that, but in the case where accidents might occur regardless, the evidence of an SSoW can provide evidence that the employer has taken the required steps to protect their team. Since new sentencing guidelines were introduced in 2016, fines resulting from workplace accidents have increased 450%, so it’s crucial to take the necessary steps to avoid potential costs down the line.

What can happen if I don’t implement an SSoW?

Poor health and safety practices can have disastrous consequences for organisations and the individuals involved. Illness or injury can heavily impact an employee’s quality of life, as well as interrupt their ability to work.

Accidents can also cause significant damage to the company’s reputation, productivity, and finances, all of which can be hard to recover from. An injured employee might blame their management for not bothering to properly protect them – they could refuse to return to work, or tell other prospective or existing employees of the bad experience they had with the company. They could seek legal action, causing repercussions such as costs, fines, or even jail time.

Furthermore, simply showing employees respect will earn an employer that same respect back. Offering some care and concern will likely lead to an increase in staff motivation, productivity, and retention.

Common Safety Hazards at Work

There are six common areas of workplace hazards:

  • Safety: These involve conditions that create unsafe conditions, such as exposed wires on a film set that someone could trip over.
  • Chemical: These are hazardous substances that have the potential to harm the people handling them.
  • Ergonomic: These are physical hazards that can lead to musculoskeletal injuries, such as unsafe manual labour or a poorly produced office setup.
  • Physical: These are environmental factors, such as heights or radiation.
  • Biological: These include substances or organisms that can cause direct harm to workers, such as mould, vermin, sewage and waste.
  • Psychosocial: This is more about the mental health and wellbeing of an employee, which can be impacted by violence, sexual harassment, and stress.

How to identify health and safety risks

There are certain steps employers can take to analyse and understand the risks involved in a workplace so that they can produce a proper SSoW. It’s recommended to follow these steps, or hire a health and safety professional who can complete these steps for you:

  • Collect information: Gather all the necessary information that relates to the workplace and potential risks involved – look at previous records, analyse the existing safety measures, or chat to experienced workers for some frontline insight.
  • Inspect the workplace: Review the surroundings and check for any hazards you might not have previously been aware of. Assess your equipment, materials, and anything else your employees might be exposed to during their time at work.
  • Identify hazards: Using the research you’ve done, identify all the risks involved and create a cohesive list.

Risk assessments

It is necessary to first produce a risk assessment for any type of work activity. This will tell you if you need to design an SSoW or not. It can include:

  • The employers at potential risk.
  • How they are at risk.
  • The existing measures in place to control any risks.
  • Any extra safety measures required to control the risks.
  • The resources required to complete the added safety measures.
  • When the added measures are needed by.

How Can I Develop an SSoW?

Now that you’ve identified the risks involved and know what steps you need to take to implement proper safety measures, you can start producing your SSoW.

Three elements of a good SSoW

There are three key elements that make up a good SSoW:

  • Employee involvement and training: Ensuring that the workers who will be following the SSoW are actually involved in the process will not only benefit the actual validity and efficiency of the document, but it will set a positive example of management from the employer and promote community within the team. Proper training will also take your safety precaution to the next level.
  • Proactive prevention: Preventative maintenance is the crux of an SSoW – make sure your safety measures focus closely on the details of not simply the risks involved, but the steps required to actually mitigate those risks and the best ways to remedy potentially harmful situations.
  • Regular reviews: Continual reviews of the workplace environment will allow you to properly assess the safety risks and adjust your SSoW accordingly if necessary.

Writing an SSoW

There are various formats and layouts you can opt for when it comes to writing up your SSoW. You might choose to sort the information into lists, columns, tables – it’s up to you. Whatever you go for, it’s important to have a clear structure in mind. If you were to go for columns, for example, you might want to relay the information like this:

  • Column 1: Sequence of steps. Outline each step involved in completing the work task.
  • Column 2: Risks involved. List all the relevant hazards, connected to each step, identified during the risk assessment process.
  • Column 3: Safety measures. Explain how to tackle all preventative and corrective safety measures that relate to each risk. 
  • Column 4: PPE. Where appropriate, include any personal protective equipment necessary for each task or safety measure.

However you choose to structure your process, implementing a proper SSoW is key to protecting your team and promoting a positive company culture. At H&S Dept, we know every route to following the correct health and safety measures. If you want more information or require some support in creating a plan for you and your team, feel free to get in touch.

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