Is a Safe System of Work the Same as a Method Statement?

operator using a metal press following a safe system of work procedure

Updated 22 November 2020

You may have heard the terms safe system of work, permit to work or method statement, but what do they mean?  Is there a difference between them, and when should they be used?  Do you need a risk assessment if you have written a method statement?  In this blog we will provide answers to these questions and help you understand how to use these work methods appropriately to help reduce health and safety risks.

What is a safe system of work?

A safe system of work is a document that formalises how a particular task should be carried out to ensure that it is done safely. These documents are also commonly known as method statements (mainly associated with construction and maintenance related activities). This document organises work into a logical sequence for workers to follow.   There are certain work activities where a more specialised method of work is required, and this is known as a permit to work.

Whatever method is adopted it should be put together by a competent person, who is capable of identifying the hazards involved and the appropriate control measures that will be required to reduce risk.

What are an employer’s duties under the law?

Every employer has a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and any other people who may be affected by their business. The law requires employers to produce and submit certain notifications, risk assessments, safety plans and examination reports. This documentation is designed to underpin the practical processes implemented on site to maintain health and safety standards. Employers must ensure that all required documentation is produced, maintained and made available to Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors if requested.

Method statements are not required by law but they are proven to be an effective and practical way to plan, manage and monitor work, especially in settings such as construction sites.

What should be in a method statement / safe system of work procedure?

Method statements are based on the findings of risk assessments. They address any risks identified and detail the safe system of work for carrying out workplace tasks. A method statement generally focuses on high-risk, comlex and unusual work; it may also provide guidance on managing serious or imminent danger.

The safe system of work or method statement should set out all of the information that an employee needs to know in order to carry out the work safely. Relevant details could include:

  • the sequence in which the operation is to be carried out;
  • the equipment required;
  • who should do the work;
  • foreseeable hazards and how they are controlled;
  • details of any specific training required;
  • monitoring procedures; and
  • emergency arrangements.

There are no set rules on what must be covered in a safe system of work. To be useful and effective tasks should be broken down into chronological order detailing what must happen and when.  It shouldn’t point out the obvious, e.g. instructions to use a spanner to tighten bolts. Method statements are predominantly associated with construction type activities however, they are a safe system of work procedure and so the terms are and can be used interchangeably.

Every workplace must complete a COVID-19 risk assessment and this is likely to impact your safe system of work/method statement. Refer to government guidelines to ensure that your documentation remains up-to-date and relevant to the modern needs of the workplace and its people.

Download a copy of our free method statement template which can be used to create safe system of work procedures to control workplace risks.

If you’d like further help and guidance in writing a method statement, contact us for a free 15-minute consultation. We have decades of experience helping businesses achieve legal compliance in health and safety across a wide range of industries.

What is a permit to work?

The purpose of a permit to work is to provide a safe system of work for activities that could have the potential for significant harm or damage beyond the normal work activities.   It allows for an additional layer of control to be considered to reduce the severity of risk.

The permit should detail:

  • the work to be carried out;
  • how it will be done;
  • as well as the precautions that should be taken.

A permit to work should demonstrate that all foreseeable hazards have been considered. The sequence of how the work is done is typically contained in a method statement/safe system of work procedure.

What should be covered in a permit to work system?

A permit to work document needs to be specific to the work that will be carried out and carefully controlled.  Before anyone uses one, they must understand how it operates and what is required of them. If there is any doubt or concern, the person undertaking the work should seek assistance from the competent person in charge of the permit.

In practice, the typical contents of a permit to work would include:

  • permit title and number;
  • job location;
  • any time limits on the work;
  • description of the work to be carried out under the permit;
  • hazard identification;
  • precautions required and protective equipment needed;
  • details of who is authorised to carry out the work;
  • information on any remaining risks or risks that may arise from the work;
  • acceptance by an authorised person;
  • extension or shift handover procedures, if relevant;
  • handing back procedures; and
  • cancellation by an authorised person

A permission to work should be signed off by a manager or senior staff member who has the authority to do so — work must not begin until the signed paperwork is ready. The document ensures that every aspect of the work is planned and checked — it acts as both a means of communication and a written record of health and safety procedures.

Note:A crucial point of principle is that no permit should be issued unless the person issuing and receiving it have personally satisfied themselves that the permit is properly made out and have visited the scene of the work and verified that the specified precautions are in place.

What work activity may require a permit to work?

A permit to work will normally be required for the following work activities:

  • Work at heights in excess of 1.5m
  • Hot works e.g. cutting, burning, welding etc;
  • Work on electrical and mechanical systems requiring isolation;
  • Work on live electrical and moving equipment likely to cause entanglement, entrapment etc;
  • Construction work including erecting and dismantling partitions etc;
  • External window cleaning and indoor window cleaning involving working at height;
  • Testing of safety critical systems including lifts, cradles, fire protection systems etc
  • Gas and electricity supply work;
  • Confined space entry.

Our working at height permit to work template provides an example of what information could be required in the permit for roof access.

We also offer both in-person and online training to help you and your team prepare and understand health and safety documentation with confidence. Contact us to find out more.

person climbing roof as part of a permit to work system

Closing Remarks

“Method statement” is a term more commonly associated with construction, maintenance and refurbishment type activities. Other workplace activities may just refer to a safe system of work procedure. Higher risk workplace activities are reserved for a permit to work system. Whichever system is adopted there must be a valid risk assessment in place.

If you are involved in evaluating method statements from contractors, it is good to have consistency in the evaluation process.  As a thank you for visiting our website and reading this far, if you send us an e-mail with your contact details and mention this blog post, we will send you a method statement evaluation form.

If you have never carried out a risk assessment then have a look at our  online risk assessment training course.  If you would like us to write specific safe system of work procedures for activities identified in your risk assessment do get in touch.  We have assisted several organisations to put these work methods in place.

1 Comment

  1. Nandana kumara says:

    This is very helpful for me. thank you very much.

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