Not the Same: Method Statements, Safe Systems of Work, Permits to Work


Method Statements (or, Work Instructions)

These are step-by-step, documented procedures that explain how to perform tasks safety. It’s a guide or set of instructions for doing a task right, first time, every time. They are intended to be used by those people actually carrying out the work, therefore, they should be as user-friendly as possible and not crammed with useless information or technical jargon. Otherwise, they’re likely to just be ignored. They may come in different formats, such as step-by-step instructions, checklists, decision aids, diagrams, flow-charts and etc.

Some organisations don’t use the term ‘method statement’ and might instead refer to them as ‘work instructions’. Here’s how the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) define method statements…

“Method statements describe in a logical sequence exactly how a job is to be carried out in a safe manner and without risks to health. It includes all the risks identified in the risk assessment and the measures needed to control those risks. This allows the job to be properly planned and resourced.”

Safe Systems of Work

In order to produce and implement a method statement (or, work instruction), you’re going to need to…

  • carry out a risk assessment
  • provide training
  • purchase the correct equipment
  • maintain that equipment
  • supervise staff to ensure they follow the use the method statement
  • have emergency procedures in case things go wrong
  • etc. etc.

These are ‘Safe Systems of Work’. Without these systems, there can’t really be a method statement. These systems are inputs into the method statement.

See below for how it all fits together within the wider health and safety management system (click the image to enlarge).



Permits to Work

Method statements (or, work instructions) are adequate for most work activities, but some work requires extra care.  A ‘permit to work’ is a more formal system stating exactly what work is to be done and when, and which parts are particularly hazardous.  A responsible person should assess the work and check safety at each stage. The people doing the job sign the permit to show that they understand the risks and precautions necessary.

Permits are effectively a means of communication between site management, plant supervisors and operators, and those who carry out the work. Examples of high-risk jobs where a written ‘permit to work’ procedure may need to be used include

  • hot work such as welding,
  • vessel entry,
  • cutting into pipework carrying hazardous substances, and
  • work that requires electrical or mechanical isolation.

It is also a means of coordinating different work activities to avoid conflicts.

The terms ‘permit-to-work’, ‘permit’ or ‘work permit’ refer to the paper or electronic certificate or form which is used as part of an overall system of work, and which has been devised by a company to meet its specific needs.



Permit to Work (PTW)