Managing risks

Managing risks in construction is an important part of keeping people safe in a dangerous environment.  

This includes: 

  • working through the hierarchy of control measures  

  • creating an emergency plan and  

  • completing and implementing a safe work management plan (SWMS) for any high-risk construction. 

A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must apply risk control measures, starting with trying to eliminate the risk first.  

Risk control measures 

The work health and safety (WHS) Regulations require you to control risks in a certain order (known as the hierarchy of control measures): 

  • first, eliminate risks by eliminating hazards; this is the most effective control measure  

  • then substitute a hazardous task with something safer,  

  • then isolate hazards from people   

  • or use engineering controls to minimise any risks that have not been eliminated  

  • then use administrative controls to minimise any remaining risks, and  

then use personal protective equipment (PPE) to minimise any risks that remain. Note: a combination of the above control measures can be used to minimise risks.  

If these control measures change how your workers do their work, you must: 

  • consult your workers and create safe work procedures 

  • if workers are represented by a health and safety representative (HSR), the consultation must involve that representative  

  • provide training, instructions, information and supervision on the changes 

The Code of practice: How to manage work health and safety risks has more information. 

Emergency Plan 

As a PCBU, you must put an emergency plan in place before you start construction work. The plan has a written set of instructions for workers and others on what to do in an emergency. 

This includes fire, explosion, medical emergency, rescues, incidents with hazardous chemicals, bomb threats, armed confrontations and natural disasters. 

The emergency plan must include: 

  • an effective response to an emergency 

  • evacuation procedures 

  • notifying emergency services  

  • medical treatment and help  

  • effective communication  

  • testing emergency procedures 

  • information, training and instruction to relevant workers about doing the emergency procedures 

Safe work method statements (SWMS) 

A PCBU that carries out high risk construction has additional WHS duties. These include requirements to prepare, keep, comply with and review a SWMS for the work. The PCBU must provide give the SWMS to the principal contractor.  

A SWMS is a document that sets out: 

  • high risk construction work activities 

  • hazards that could happen from these activities  

  • how the PCBU will control the risks 

The Safe work method statement for high risk construction work information sheet provides information on preparing a SWMS. 

High risk construction work 

High risk construction work: 

  • involves a risk of a person falling more than 2 m 

  • is carried out on a telecommunication tower 

  • involves demolition of an element of a structure that is load-bearing 

  • involves demolition of an element of a structure that is related to the physical integrity of the structure 

  • involves, or is likely to involve, disturbing asbestos 

  • involves structural alteration or repair that requires temporary support to prevent collapse 

  • is carried out in or near a confined space 

  • is carried out in or near a shaft or trench deeper than 1.5 m or a tunnel 

  • involves the use of explosives 

  • is carried out on or near pressurised gas mains or piping 

  • is carried out on or near chemical, fuel or refrigerant lines 

  • is carried out on or near energised electrical installations or services 

  • is carried out in an area that may have a contaminated or flammable atmosphere 

  • involves tilt-up or precast concrete 

  • is carried out on, in or adjacent to a road, railway, shipping lane or other traffic corridor in use by traffic other than pedestrians 

  • is carried out in an area of a workplace where there is any movement of powered mobile plant 

  • is carried out in areas with artificial extremes of temperature 

  • is carried out in or near water or other liquid that involves a risk of drowning 

  • involves diving work.