SAFed Health and Safety Passport Scheme

Module 4 — Safe Systems of Work

4.1            Introduction

This document forms one of a series of modules on various health and safety subjects that comprise the examinable material considered necessary for the award of the SAFed Health and Safety Passport.

When you have studied this module you should have acquired sufficient knowledge to be able to answer the questions detailed at the end of the module.  Upon satisfactory completion of all modules, you will be eligible to undertake the final assessment for the award of the SAFed Health and Safety Passport.

The SAFed Health and Safety Passport is issued to Engineer Surveyors by the Health and Safety Manager of their employing company upon satisfactory completion of the Safety Passport final assessment.

The award of the SAFed Health and Safety Passport provides evidence that the holder of the Passport has the appropriate knowledge and awareness in health and safety matters considered necessary for an Engineer Surveyor to undertake the duties for which they are authorised by their employing company.

The passport is valid for a maximum of three years.

4.2       Key Objectives

Having studied the module you should have an awareness of:

·         The relevant legislation associated with safe systems of work.

·         Components of safe systems of work.

·         When a safe system of work is required.

·         Designing, developing and monitoring a safe system of work.

4.3       Legal Commentary

The Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 places general duties on all employers within Section 2, which states:

‘It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure as far as is reasonably practicable the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees.’

‘The employer has to provide and maintain plant and systems of work that are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health.’

The Workplace (Health. Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 provide an important backup to the safe systems of work requirement in the Act by laying down regulations regarding such items as ventilation, traffic routes and room dimensions.

4.4            Discussion

A safe system of work is a formal procedure that results from systematic examination of a task in order to identify all the hazards.  It defines safe methods to ensure that hazards are eliminated or risks minimised.

Engineer Surveyors visit many different clients and there is a primary responsibility on the part of the client to ensure that their premises are properly maintained and safe.  But it must be remembered that to a large extent the Engineer Surveyor is his own safety officer and he should take all reasonable steps to ensure he is working to a safe system.  The Engineer Surveyor should adhere to his employer’s safe systems of work.  He should also establish on arrival at a site, or prior to the visit if possible, if the client has safe systems of work or permit-to-work systems in force.  He should then strictly comply with the requirements of these systems and any other site safety rules.  Engineer Surveyors should use their discretion as to whether safety precautions and equipment provided are sufficient.  If in doubt they should seek advice from their Health and Safety Manager.

4.5       Safe Systems of Work

4.5.1            Components of Safe Systems of Work

A safe system of work constitutes the bringing together of materials, people, plant and equipment in such a way as to effect work activities in safety.  Systems of work must have a logical, well thought-out approach when compared with methods of working, which often merely evolve under their own steam.  In a system of work there is a logical progression from hazard identification and prediction so that such hazards are eliminated or controlled.

Safe systems at work are of paramount importance in accident prevention and should fully identify and document all the hazards, safety precautions and safe working practices associated with all activities performed by employees.  The arrangement section of the safety policy should spell out a company’s attitude to safe working systems and must include details of the hazard analysis procedures to be undertaken prior to plant inspection and maintenance.  The analysis should he capable of identifying any unsafe work methods.  There must also be a system of monitoring safety performance and for publishing information about such performance.

Job safety training should also be mentioned in the policy document and is an integral part of the safe working system; there must be a basic commitment to provide high standards of safety training for all operatives, new entrants, line manager, the safety practitioner and all safety representatives.

4.5.2    When is a Safe System Required?

Many hazards are clearly recognisable and can he overcome by physically separating people from them e.g. by using guarding on machinery.  A safe system of work is needed when hazards cannot he physically eliminated and some element of risk remains.  These principles should be applied to routine work as well as to more special cases such as:

·         Cleaning and maintenance operations.

·         Making changes to work layouts, materials used or working methods.

·         Employees working away from base or working alone.

·         Breakdowns or emergencies.

·         Controlling activities of contractors.

·         Loading, unloading and movement of vehicles.

4.5.3            Designing a Safe System of Work

There are FIVE steps required to produce a safe system of work:

Step 1              Assess the task.

Step 2              Identify the hazards

Step 3              Define safe methods

Step 4              Implement the system

Step 5              Monitor the system

Step 1              Assessing the Task

Assess all aspects of the task and the risk it presents.  Hazards to health as well as to safety should he considered taking into account:

·         What is used e.g. the plant and substances, potential failures of machinery, toxic hazards, electrical hazards, design limits, risk of inadvertently operating automatic controls.

·         Who does what e.g. delegation, training, foreseeable human errors, short cuts, ability to cope in an emergency.

·         Where the task is carried out e.g. hazards in the workplace, problems caused by weather conditions or lighting, hazards from adjacent premises or contractors etc.

·         How the task is done e.g. the procedures, potential failures in work methods, lack of foresight of infrequent events.

Step 2              Identifying the Hazards

On the completion of assessing the task the hazards and risks associated with the task should be identified.  Where possible eliminate the hazards and reduce the risks before relying upon a safe system of work.

Step 3              Defining Safe Methods

The safe system of work may he defined orally, by a simple written procedure or in exceptional cases by a formal permit to work scheme.

·         Consider the preparation and authorisation needed at the start of the job.

·         Ensure accurate planning of job sequences.

·         Specify safe working methods.

·         Include means of access and escape if relevant.

·         Consider the tasks of dismantling, disposal etc., at the end of the job.

Involve the people who will be doing the work.  Their practical knowledge of problems can help avoid unusual risks and prevent false assumptions being made at this stage.

In those special cases where a permit to work system is necessary there should he a properly documented procedure.  It is important that everyone understands which jobs require a formal permit to work. Permits to work should:

·         Define the work to be done.

·         State how the work area is to be made safe.

·         Identify any remaining hazards and the precautions to be taken.

·         Describe checks to be carried out before normal work can be resumed.

·         Name the person responsible for controlling the job.

Jobs likely to require a permit to work system include:

·         Working in confined spaces.

·         Hot work on plant containing flammable dusts, liquids, gases or their residues.

·         Cutting into pipe-work containing hazardous substances.

·         Work on live electrical equipment.

Step 4              Implementing the System

The safe system of work must he communicated properly, understood by employees and applied correct1y.  Employees should be aware of the commitment to reduce accidents by using safe systems of work.

Training should be provided when necessary and it should be part of a safe system of work to stop work when faced with an unexpected problem until a safe solution can be found.

Step 5              Monitoring the System

Monitoring means periodically checking that:

·         The system is still workable.

·         The procedures laid down in the system of work are being carried out and are effective.

·         Any changes in circumstances, which necessitate the need for alterations to the system of work are taken into account.

4.5.4            Developing a Practical System

In developing a practical safe working system it is necessary to ensure that adequate provision is made for the following:

·         Safe design of plant and equipment.

·         Safe installation of plant and machinery.

·         Safe maintenance of plant, equipment and premises.

·         Safe use of plant, equipment and tools through proper training and supervision.

·         Documented, planned maintenance procedures.

·         Safe working environment (ventilation, heat and light).

·         Adequate and competent supervision.

·         Trained and competent employees.

·         Proper enforcement of the safety policy and associated rules.

·         Adequate personal protection for vulnerable employees.

·         Documented procedures for the issue of protective clothing.

·         Dissemination of health and safety information to all the employees.

·         Regular reviews (not less than once a year) of all job safety instructions and methods of work to ensure that;

a)      there is continued compliance with legislation.

b)      plant modifications are taken into account.

c)      substituted materials are taken into account.

d)      new work methods are incorporated.

e)      systems still work safely in practice.

f)       advances in new technology are exploited.

g)      safety precautions are adjusted to take into account accident experience.

4.5.5            Summary

The law requires employers to provide safe and healthy systems of work for their employees.

One quarter of fatal accidents at work have been caused, and the health of many workers damaged, because safe systems of work were not provided or were ignored.

Not all jobs are hazardous, but if they are an employer must have systems of work which reduce risks to a minimum.

Some risks are very clear and are overcome, for instance, by guarding.  But there may be other risks, which are not so obvious e.g. from maintenance, cleaning, breakdowns, chemical releases or emergencies.

Look at every job, think about what is used, who does what, when, where and how it is done.

Look for any hazards in the workplace, assess the risks and if possible remove the hazards.

If a hazard cannot be removed a safe system of work will be required.

When faced with an unusual or unexpected hazard while carrying out an examination, stop work until a safe solution to the problem can be found.

Plan each job carefully from the start, decide who is in charge and how people know when to start the job, what to do and in what order.

Inform employees verbally how the job must he done.  Where the job is complex or the risks are high instructions should be in writing.  In some cases a written permit-to-work will be required.

4.5.6            Permit-to-Work Systems

In many cases it is impossible or extremely unrealistic to eliminate a risk totally.  Even when the risk has been reduced, we are left with no alternative but to train someone with the skill to recognise the risks involved and how to minimise them.  A procedural way of taking every precaution possible is to institute a permit-to-work system.

It is important to note that a permit-to-work system should not he mistaken for a safe system of work.  Rather, a safe system of work may require a permit-to-work system to be adopted as part of its overall systematic control of risk.  The safe system of work should in itself he considered as part of the quality control procedures of an organisation.

A permit-to-work system is a systematic means of controlling risk.

Whenever maintenance or other temporary work of a potentially hazardous nature is to be carried out a permit-to-work system is essential.

Most accidents can he attributed in one way or another to human error.  In order to achieve a high decree of safety it is necessary to eliminate human error as much as possible by using a system that requires formal action.

The permit must be in the possession of the person in charge of the operation before work can commence.

Ideally the control of permit to work systems throughout the company should he the overall responsibility of one person who possess the ability, knowledge and authority to ensure full compliance.

It is important that Engineer Surveyors working under a ‘Permit to Work’ system identify the area of work covered by the permit to ensure that they are operating within the time shown and do not carry out any other work other than that specified in the permit.  If further work is necessary the surveyor must stop work at the conclusion of the existing permit and await the issue of a fresh permit. 

4.6       End of module and next steps

Well done!  By reaching this point you will have finished studying this particular module.  You should now have sufficient knowledge to answer the questions contained at the end of the module.

Answers to the questions should be forwarded to your Health and Safety Manager.

Provided that you have answered the questions correctly, your Health and Safety Manager will forward to you your next self study module.

To answer Module 4 Questions Click here