Home - Signing a safe work method statement

I have received advice that employees must sign off (handwritten signatures or signatures scanned in) on safe work method statements (SWMSs) for working at heights and high-pressure work. Do you have to have actual employees’ signatures on the SWMSs?

There is no explicit requirement for a signature to be included on the SWMS under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Act) or the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (NSW) (Regulations).

By way of context, the Act requires that a business or undertaking must, so far as reasonably practicable, consult with workers who carry out work for the business or who are likely to be affected by a matter relating to work health and safety (section 47). In particular, workers must be consulted in the particular circumstances set out in section 49 of the Act, which includes among other things, identifying hazards and risks arising from the work to be carried out and making decisions to minimise or eliminate those risks. That is, essentially, the process of preparing an SWMS.

The NSW Code of Practice for Construction Work (Code) provides that an “SMWS may include details of workers who have been consulted on the SWMS, the date the consultation occurred and the signature of each worker acknowledging their participation in developing the SWMS” (page 23). The Code also includes an example SWMS, which sets out the information that must be included in an SWMS, and other information that should be included. Notably, the sample SWMS provides a space for workers to sign and date the SWMS.

A code of practice is admissible in court proceedings as evidence of what is known about a hazard, risk or control, and to determine what is reasonably practicable in the circumstances to which the code relates. It is recognised that equivalent or better ways of achieving the required work health and safety outcomes may be possible. For that reason, compliance with codes of practice is not mandatory providing that any other method used provides an equivalent or higher standard of work health and safety than suggested by the code of practice. Importantly, the Code does not express that signatures on SWMS are a control measure, although it is generally considered that an actual signature from the worker evidences that they have been taken through the SWMS, provided their feedback on the steps and led to an assessment by the PCBU that the worker understands the SWMS.

As such, requiring workers to sign onto a SWMS or alternatively, providing a form of electronic signature, is an easy and effective way to show that a business or undertaking has complied with its obligations under the Act and Regulations to consult with workers. Notably, the Regulations also require the SWMS to be accessible and understandable to any individual who needs to use it. Requiring individuals to provide their signatures on the SWMS either physically or in an electronic signature format is an effective method to develop a regime to ensure that workers have read and understand the risks and controls being implemented for the work being performed.

It is possible that a well maintained electronic system that records an acknowledgement from the workers that have been consulted regarding the SWMS could be an alternative method to record that workers have been consulted regarding the work method.

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