Safe Systems of Work (SSoW)

09 July 2019

As an employer, it's your duty to reduce or eliminate hazards in the workplace. Safe systems of work can help make sure that all staff follow correct methods of working.

Without a safe system in place, you have no certainty that your staff are completing every task safely. If something does go wrong, employees could be seriously injured leaving you liable to costly legal claims and even prosecution.

In this guide, we'll cover what a safe system of work is, why they’re important, and how to implement a safe system within your business.

What is a safe system of work?

Safe systems of work (or SSoW) are procedures designed to make sure that workers conduct tasks safely. A safe system of work should be carried out on each and every occasion that a task is undertaken. Consistent use of a safe system can drastically minimise any potential risks or hazards.

Safe systems of work are detailed step by step guides that take into account the job at hand, the staff carrying out the task, and the equipment involved. They could be as simple as reminding employees to use personal protective equipment (PPE) or for more serious practices like working at height.

A SSoW should be formalised as a written document. This allows workers to refer to key action points when completing any potentially dangerous task.

 someone using a grinder on metal beams

Why are safe systems of work important?

All companies should have set SSoW in place. While it is not always possible to eliminate the danger, you should reduce the risk to as low a level as possible.

Safe systems of work can help you improve existing working practices. They also help ensure that all work is completed to a consistent and high standard.

Defining safe methods helps to reduce the likelihood of accidents or injuries caused by human error. By identifying all the key points that workers need to be aware of, and implementing strict rules and guidelines, you can avoid staff undertaking unnecessary risks.

Are safe systems of work a legal requirement?

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA) states that employers must provide and maintain systems that protect worker's safety. This law requires employers to provide employees with an environment that does not create unnecessary risks to their health.

While there is no legal requirement for safe systems to be recorded, doing so helps ensure that the system remains in place. Written safe operating procedures and documented safety rules can help remind staff of their responsibilities.

They also serve as evidence that you have conducted thorough job safety analysis. This evidence can be vital should accidents occur.

Who is responsible for creating a safe system of work?

Ultimately, it is an employer's responsibility to manage employee health & safety in the workplace. However, this task can be delegated to other members of staff or a third party. This is often done when systems of work require specialist knowledge or expertise.

Employers can appoint a competent person to help them meet all legal health & safety duties. Before doing so, you must make sure that they have all the relevant and appropriate knowledge to create the devised system. This is especially important when undertaking a very high risk job or task.

A third party may be an outside contractor or a professional health & safety officer. While they can present thorough and detailed findings, they can be costly for small and medium sized businesses.

a car raised on a jack in a workshop

How to write a safe system of work

When developing a proposed system of work, you need to consider your specific industry. For example, if you work in construction you will need to follow stricter guidelines than if you worked in an office.

Creating safe systems of work requires adequate communication between employer and employee. Fail to do so and your staff may be put at further risk.

Let’s look at how to write your own safe system of work.

Analyse the task

Before creating a safe system of work, you need to consider what tasks pose the biggest risk to your staff. Taking audit of your current practices can help identify tasks that are no longer needed. Eliminating these can be a good first step to reducing potential risks.

With essential tasks, try and identify where risks stem from. Speak with the employees that regularly carry out these tasks. Their practical knowledge can be useful when identifying a risk involved in the process.

 two warehouse workers stacking shelves

Safe systems of work begin with a risk assessment. Valid risk assessments help you identify foreseeable hazards. They can help you to reduce or mitigate any potential dangers. A job role may have very low risks, however, there are always potential hazards for you to consider.

Risk assessments can be carried out by yourself or a competent person. When conducting a typical safe system of work risk assessment, you need to consider:

  • Who is at risk.
  • The equipment involved.
  • The materials that are used.
  • The environment that the task is taking place in.

Once you have this information you should record your findings. In some instances you may need to use formal hazard analysis techniques such as fault tree analysis. This is needed when a job poses a particularly high risk.

In this case, the assessment should be carried out under sufficient supervision of someone with detailed knowledge of the activity. This helps make sure that the safety system is effective and fit for purpose.

Identify safety control measures

Once you have conducted your risk assessment, you need to consider the most serious and likely potential risks. The specific hazards you may encounter will depend on your industry. However, most sectors experience risks relating to possible human error or equipment failure.

There are many types of potential hazards. Some of the most common ones include:

  • Unchecked equipment: The type of job at hand will determine the safety equipment needed. However, unchecked or poorly maintained equipment may be faulty and therefore pose a serious risk to staff.
  • Chemicals: Many industries require the use of chemicals in their day-to-day practices. However, they pose a risk to both employees and the environment. Without a safe system in place, they can cause burns, fires and severe allergic reactions.
  • Repetitive movement: This is often an overlooked hazard; however, repetitive movement can cause damage to joints and muscles. Injured employees may require extended periods of time off to recover.
  • Weather: The weather can play a huge part in your safe systems of work. If you have staff working outside you need to consider the risks involved and whether additional PPE is required.

Develop a safe system of work method

Once you have identified your most serious hazards, you can begin creating a safe system of work to mitigate these. You may find that some hazards are easier to eliminate than others. In some instances, you may have to focus on minimising the risk instead of removing it altogether.

The severity of the risk will dictate the requirements of your safe systems of work as well as the way it is communicated.

Communicate your safe systems of work

Once you have a series of approved safe working methods, you need to communicate this with all staff. For simple and low risks, you may be able to communicate your system of safe work verbally. However, having documented systems of work can help ensure that all staff follow the process correctly each and every time.

If a task is very high risk, you may require staff to gain a formal written permit to work system. These requirements should be laid out as part of your written safe operating procedures, preferably alongside signed acknowledgement of the required procedure.

How to begin implementing safe systems of work

When implementing a new safe system of work, you may need to provide particular training on new working methods. It can help to reiterate the key points workers need to be aware of and how they differ from previous practices.

Employers should also explain what these new safe methods aim to do and how they can improve their job safety.

You should conduct regular competency tests to confirm that staff are continuing to work safely. This can also prove that staff are adequately trained on the documented methods and safety procedures.

If staff are not following the new procedures, then your safe system has not been properly implemented. This can leave both you and your business at legal risk of fines and potential prosecution.

How often should you review safe systems of work?

To help employees absorb this information, you should present new safe systems of work as clear written rules. You should review your systems and recent risk assessments, following any safety incident. This way you can spot any issues with the system's details such as misinformation about a particular worker's experience.

When reviewing, ask is the current system workable? You may find that a safe system is better in theory, or that the brief written safety rules aren't developed enough for the task.

Review you written safe system alongside employees that regularly complete the task. This can help you get a better idea of how the written systems work in practice and can help you identify any issues with completing the work safely.

Get expert advice from Peninsula on creating safe systems of work

As an employer, you need to work to keep your employees as safe as reasonably practicable. This includes avoiding unnecessary risks and providing them with the correct tools to carry out any task.

A safe system of work can help your employees to carry out their work safely. Fail to do so, and your employees could be at risk of a serious accident.

Peninsula offers expert guidance on developing safe systems of work. Our 24/7 health & safety advice is available 365 days a year and our fully trained advisors are ready to help.

Want to find out more? Book a free consultation with one of our health & safety consultants. Call 0800 028 2420.

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