Pass Me Another SWMS Leo, The Last One Was Too Short
Republished Guest Post by Dr Rob Long – Author of “For the Love of Zero” and one of our most popular regular contributors. See his other articles HERE
Isn’t it marvellous, SAI Global recently advertised new editable SWMSs (Safe Work Method Statement) for download. See the SWMS download media release here
Now you don’t have to really assess risk, understand the job or know how to be safe, it’s the ultimate in cut and paste. So when the inspector comes, all the columns will be ruled right, the right words will be in the right place and then you can just go ahead and ‘get the job done’, marvelous. A godsend for ‘tick and flick’.
This of course is not the only source of templates, there are plenty of companies out there who will do all the paperwork for you, for a tidy price. And why do people want templates? Because the time they tried to do a risk assessment on their own, they were marked like a primary school child and corrected for spelling mistakes or sequence. I have some SWMS attempted by subcontractors that were taken recently on to a tier 1 construction site and it is embarrassing what was handed back. It wasn’t embarrassing for the subcontractor, the tier 1 company marked these SWMS like a primary school assignment, in red pen. What a bizarre place the safety industry has ended up when a tool, intended to be a thinking tool, has been made an idol by the religion of rules.
This is where we end up when we make the tool for thinking, the product and an ‘end’ in itself. Rather than understand the meaning of the tool, the purpose of the tool or the dynamic of the tool, it’s now come to this that the tool has become the new idol, let’s worship the tool. The fact that high profile agencies encourage and reward this practice is astounding. It is the ultimate in ‘tick and flick’. Enculturated ‘tick and flick’ is one of the most dangerous practices in the workplace. What is more dangerous than appearing to understand risk and how to manage it, when in reality no assessment of risk has been done. Not only this but, ‘tick and flick’ culture encourages people to dismiss the value of thinking tools and encourage fraudulence as good. And of what value is such a SWMS in court, nothing. The moment the court finds out that the SWMS is meaningless, the company will be judged on the reality of culture not the fake paperwork and cosmetics of safety.
I have been on construction, mining and energy sites this last month and each time I come on site I have been asked to sign on to a one page document an induction of sorts to get me on the job. At the top of the page were quoted the numbers for the SWMS relevant to the job, one was at a high-risk facility. When I asked about the relevant SWMS I was brought out a folder with hundreds of pages and shown the corresponding documents. I was told just to sign the paperwork otherwise the job couldn’t get done and I couldn’t get on site. When I actually asked a few questions about risks on the job it was clear there had been no such conversation. On one high-risk facility I asked if I could bring my phone on the job and was told no. I then asked them if that instruction was in the SWMS, and it wasn’t. However, the SWMS did tell you how to get out of your car and walk to the gate. How absurd has this all become.
With such dominance of ‘tick and flick’ in industry and delusions about the validity of paper in court, we should probably use new language about SWMS. We now need to talk about ‘real’ SWMS, ‘tick and flick’ SWMS or cosmetic SWMS. If you want a cosmetic SWMS, it’s now easy to buy one.