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

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

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 some answers to these questions so that these work methods, when used appropriately can help to 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. They 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 and the amount of information should be relevant to the risks presented by the work.  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 should be in a method statement / safe system of work procedure?

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 which identify 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.

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

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.

They provide a record 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 to 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

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.

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.   Those 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 method in place.

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