The concept of insurance is odd because it involves paying for something you hope you’ll never use; in a sense, you are banking on it being a waste of money. But insurance is important because it offers peace of mind and, more often than not, protection against prosecution. The same principles also apply to other aspects of corporate life, not least drawing up method statements.
But a method statement encompasses far more than insurance does, as Alison Rodgers, health and safety strategy manager at the Construction Industry Training Board, explains: “It is a document prepared by an organisation that describes, in a logical sequence, exactly how a work activity will be carried out in a safe manner and without risk to health.”
So a method statement, also known as a ‘safe system of work’, is an explanation of the way that a task or process is to be completed. It outlines the hazards involved and includes a step-by-step guide on how to do the job safely. It also details which control measures have been introduced to ensure the safety of affected individuals.
But it is not the same as a risk assessment, adds Rodgers: “The risk assessment process will look at the work activity to be carried out, identify the hazards associated and the control measures required to reduce the level of risk to as low as is reasonably practicable. A method statement will take the control measures determined by the risk assessment and place them into the step-by-step process of carrying out the task.”
For Karen McDonnell, occupational health and policy advisor at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the method statement should include the combined hazards for the particular project and contain steps to be taken by everyone who might be affected.
“It includes everything from the project title to where the work is being carried out, start and finish dates and times, who the author is, projected hazards within the piece of work, and control measures, not only for health and safety, but, perhaps, also environment and quality. This could, perhaps, be linked to what staff training is required, and what competencies of the staff would be.”
Once written, the method statement must be communicated effectively to all involved in, or affected by, the work. However, warns Rodgers: “Asking persons to read the method statement may not be suitable for anyone with literacy issues or for whom English is not their first language. Consider any distractions or language barriers that may need to be overcome if verbal communication is chosen. To determine that those briefed on the content of the method statement have understood it, it’s good practice to ask questions regarding the content.”
Once satisfied that the method statement has been understood, Rodgers advises keeping a copy with the task supervisor.
There is a legal requirement to assess the risks associated with work activities and tasks when putting people to work, so completion of a risk assessment is greatly enhanced by the production of an accompanying method statement. Rodgers explains: “The work of a plant engineer can impact on others, particularly when looking at the design, installation, maintenance and repair of plant and equipment. A method statement for all of these circumstances will ensure that all parties who need to be considered during such activities have the right level of information, delivered to them in the most appropriate way at the right time.”
Indeed, failing to produce an adequate method statement can result in particularly severe penalties. For example, a company director was jailed for more than three years, and a health and safety advisor was sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment, following the death of a labourer in Fulham in December 2010.
Anghel Milosavlevici was crushed to death while working on a basement excavation when improperly-supported excavations collapsed. Southwark Crown Court heard how Conrad Sidebottom, a director of Siday Construction, who was also the site manager, was aware of the dangerous state of the excavations, but took no steps to ensure it was safe. It also heard that Richard Golding, a qualified health and safety advisor, employed by AllDay Safety Services, was aware of the risks, as he was responsible for drafting the method of work statement.
Not only was this document was found to be inadequate, it was not followed. Despite the fact that Golding had the authority to stop dangerous works, he failed to do so.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said the method statement included information copied from a document relating to a previous basement job, and that it was prepared without reference to drawings or schemes in relation to the propping and shoring temporary works that would be needed.
On top of this, the method of work was changed when on site, meaning people were digging with buckets and spades, making the need for adequate propping and shoring even more important.
Golding visited the site monthly. His last visit was nine days before the incident. He didn’t take action even though the method statement was not being followed, and he didn’t question the temporary works.
Although not related directly to plant engineering, this example shows that there is no room for complacency when it comes to producing a method statement.
As well as the obvious moral case for creating a method statement – protecting employees – it can also provide a defense against litigation. Rodgers points out: “There is no legal requirement to produce a risk assessment. However, if there is an accident or incident that results in injury or damage to person, plant or property, the lack of a method statement may be taken as a lack of planning for the task in hand.
“Having a robust method statement that has been effectively communicated to all persons involved, and is relevant and proportionate to the task in hand, may be used as mitigation that all foreseeable risks have been assessed and addressed as far as was reasonably practicable at the time of assessment.”
What happens when you want to alter the method statement? McDonnell advises: “There has to be a legitimate reason for the change. Perhaps it doesn’t fully describe the tasks involved; there might be a change in personnel or resources; a change in competencies; or you might identify that the level of supervision is required to be higher.
“Many organisations use a method statement review or tracking sheet where they reflect on the piece of work to determine if [changes need to be made]… In terms of discoverability, you will want to make sure that the documentation is fully understood by those who will undertake the work. If there are any additional elements to be picked up, you would incorporate the comments of the supervisor on site and then move forward.
“The key to success is an effective author in the first instance, and then an effective engagement process with the staff and others who might be affected.”
Rodgers adds: “Work processes and tasks do not always go as per the planning carried out before work commences; significant changes to the working practices or task will require a full review of the risk assessment and, if changes to control measures are required, these will need to be recorded. This can be as an addendum. Any changes need to be recorded and communicated to all concerned.”
BOX OUT: What a method statement should cover…
A method statement results from a systematic examination of a task that identifies hazards and specifies work methods or controls designed minimise risks. It should be clear and illustrated with simple sketches where necessary, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). It should also avoid ambiguities or generalisations, which could lead to confusion.
“Statements are for the benefit of those carrying out the work and their immediate supervisors and should not be overcomplicated,” the HSE adds. “Equipment needed for safe working should be clearly identified and available before work starts. Workers should know what to do if the work method needs to be changed.”
A typical method statement could, according to the CITB, include:
● Validity (including the statement’s issue number and brief details of the changes associated with each new issue)
●Intended start and finish dates
●List of hazards associated with the work
● Means of access and egress
● Work details
● Permits to work
● How day-to-day health and safety will be monitored and controlled
● Plant inspection and operator training
● Occupational health assessments
● Personal protective equipment
● Emergency procedures
● Environmental controls
● Safety of the public and occupiers
● A list of people to whom the method statement has been explained, and by what method.
Not all of these items will be necessary or relevant to the work activities of plant engineers. See also https://is.gd/motupo.