A safe system of work (SSoW) is a formal procedure based on a systematic examination of work in order to identify the hazards. It defines safe methods of working which eliminate those hazards or minimise the risks associated with them. Put simply, a safe system of work is a defined method of doing a job in a safe way.

Employers must ensure that safe systems of work are available for all work activities that create significant risk, in the same way that it’s their responsibility to carry out risk assessments for all work activities. 

Safe systems of work become particularly important when significant residual risk remains after all practicable control measures have been introduced into work processes and where control measures that are usually present need to be removed so that a task can be completed, for example, during maintenance, servicing, inspection work, cleaning and/or construction activities.

Key action points to consider in relation to safe systems of work

  • Make sure the person(s) that develops a safe system of work is competent, i.e. they have appropriate knowledge, experience and training so they properly understand the work activity being analysed.
  • Have the competent person(s) work with those employees that will be doing the work/completing the task; This is critical as it should enable the employees to:
    • provide information about the practical knowledge and skills required to do the work/complete the task; and
    • gain a better understanding of the hazards and risks and the way in which the safe system will minimise those risks.
  • Identify and characterise all significant and foreseeable hazards (based on valid risk assessments), analyse and evaluate those hazards, and then determine the appropriate options for controlling the risks. In developing a safe system of work it’s important to consider:
    • People – who is it for?
    • Equipment – the type of plant and equipment involved and any safety equipment that may be required, for example.
    • Materials – what materials might be used and handled during the work.
    • Environment – in what environment (with respect to elements like space, lighting, temperature, etc.) will the work take place?
    • Technical/engineering, procedural and behavioural controls.
  • Ensure that the safe systems of work are integrated within the framework of a well-defined health and safety management system that implements the organisation and arrangements set out in the health and safety policy.
  • Incorporate the safe systems of work into written safe operating procedures (or job safety or work instructions, for example).
    • For simple and low risks they may be expressed as documented safety rules.
  • Communicate the safe systems of work properly and support them by providing instruction and formal training (which should be recorded, preferably alongside signed acknowledgement), with regular competency tests where appropriate.
  • Arrange supervision and monitoring of safe systems of work to uphold compliance.
  • Review safe systems of work on a regular basis or whenever there are changes relating to the work activity.

It can be helpful to think in terms of the following six steps when developing and implementing safe systems of work:

  1. Select the job or task to be analysed;
  2. Record the steps or stages of that job or task;
  3. Consider the hazards associated with each step or stage and evaluate the risks;
  4. Develop a safe working method;
  5. Implement a safe working method;
  6. Monitor the safe system of work and working method to ensure that they continue to be implemented and remain effective.

Templates that can help develop safe systems of work

Risk assessments

Example form

Guards and safety devices

Inspection form

Manual handling

Evaluation checklist

Additional resources

Frequently asked questions

Find answers to some common queries about health and safety issues and related legislation.