Safe Systems of Work

Many companies have risk assessments covering their work activities. It is a legal requirement to do so and it’s the first port of call when an incident occurs, but is it enough? Even if your employees have read the risk assessments and have signed to say they have understood, will you be deemed to have done enough if further action is taken as a result of the incident?

The answer is not clear cut and that is because risk assessments are complex documents and can sometimes be overwhelming, especially for employees.

What can you do?

What we are seeing in abundance recently is the reliance upon safe systems of work in both criminal prosecutions and personal injury claims. A large percentage of accidents occur due to lack of or failure in systems of work.

What is a safe system of work?

A system of work is a set of procedures according to which work must be carried out. Employees should be involved in the process of creating the safe system of work and they should set out in detail, the correct method for carrying out an activity. This can then be documented and used as part of the training procedure for employees undertaking this activity. Without a set method for carrying out a task safely and a recognised procedure in place to deal with non-routine processes, the threat of mistakes being made is high.

Why is it important to develop safe systems of work?

Safe systems of work ensure that all the steps necessary for safe working have been anticipated and implemented and are designed to reduce human error. They prevent situations where workers attempt to cut corners, rush through a task or take unnecessary risks, reducing the likelihood of accidents occurring.

For employers, devising safe systems of work, and providing training to ensure they are carried out effectively, will not only help to prevent accidents occurring in the first place but will help to defend prosecutions should accidents occur by providing evidence of the steps taken to ensure safe practices. With fines having increased 450% since the introduction of new sentencing guidelines in 2016, taking the time to proactively strengthen your safety systems is crucial, and developing safe systems of work is a key part of this.

Are safe systems of work required by law?

Whilst there is no specific requirement for documented safe systems of work to be implemented there are areas in all health and safety legislation that would be difficult to adhere to without them.

Under Section 2(a) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act (HSWA) 1974, employers must, ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’, provide and maintain systems of work that are practical, safe and without risks to health.

Many regulations made under the HSWA require that workers are given appropriate information and instruction on how to work safely.

Employees also have a legal duty under the HSWA to take reasonable care of their own health and safety and co-operate with their employer by following any safe systems of work that are in place.

In prosecutions by the HSE, there is a phrase that is used time and time again: ‘Those in control of work have a responsibility to devise safe methods of working and to provide the necessary information, instruction and training to their workers in the safe system of working.

Are yours in place?

If you would like some further advice please contact the health and safety team on 01302 341 344.

By Rachel Cuff CMIOSHRisk Consultant

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