A structured approach to the concept of a (safe) system of work

  • Craig Braun
  • Siobhan Brophy
  • Mohamed Jassim
  • Elaine Mills
  • Parul Dagar
  • Christopher Peace
  • Allister Rose
  • Mia Wichman
Keywords: Duty of care, Goal tree, Law, Robens, Safety management system, Negligence, Safe system of work


The concept of a “safe system of work” (SSW), sometimes known as a “system of work that is safe”, is often a required risk control in countries that follow English common law or that have Robens-style legislation, but it sits low in the hierarchy of controls. A request for advice on what constitutes a safe system of work led to a literature search that found no commonly accepted description or generic model for a safe system of work.

A literature search for SSW was carried out, including the origins of the concept and its use in statute and common law in the UK and New Zealand (NZ). Findings suggested a systems management approach to develop a tentative goal tree (part of the Theory of Constraints) to structure the themes. The goal tree was tested iteratively using a set of small-scale case studies.

The literature and research showed that a safe system should control how an individual work activity is carried out as it forms part of a larger health and safety management system. The tentative goal tree was found to provide a framework within which the case studies could be analysed and compared. It appeared to be applicable to other cases in a range of workplaces and to enable testing of a planned or existing system of work to help decide if a proposed system of work was “safe”.

The literature review provided background to the concept of a safe system of work and enabled development of a tentative goal tree to help plan or test a safe system of work.

How to Cite
Braun, C., Brophy, S., Jassim, M., Mills, E., Dagar, P., Peace, C., Rose, A., & Wichman, M. (2021). A structured approach to the concept of a (safe) system of work . New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations, 46(2), 4-19. https://doi.org/10.24135/nzjer.v46i2.64