What does reasonably practicable mean in health & safety?

What does reasonably practicable mean?

We have all been there, the job should only take a quick minute and seems very low risk however the risk assessment and company policy states all the  control measures that need to be put in place before attempting the task but what does "reasonably practicable" mean?

When health and safety conflicts with the process

What does reasonably practicable mean?

What does reasonably practicable mean?

“Pfft it will only take a minute so just turn a blind eye and I will get the job done quickly and save a few quid in the process!”

This sort of thing probably happens all the time and 9 times out of 10 nothing untoward happens while not thinking about averting the risk and everyone carries on with their lives... Hopefully!

What does reasonably practicable mean?

So you may have seen or heard the term “reasonably practicable” when people are referring to health and safety in the workplace and/or safety at work.

So what does this magic term that is thrown around so much actually mean?

Cost benefit analysis, sacrifice involved, quantum of risk, relation to the sacrifice, measures necessary for averting the risk and scale and the sacrifice to reduce risk!

The above are some quick explanations you may hear!

Okay in simple terms it basically means that the responsible person in any such scenario whether it be a risk assessor, manager or responsible person must make a calculation of what the identified hazard and likelihood of potential risk would be if the worst were to happen, once this is done then it’s time to decide what time, effort and cost etc. it would take to negate the possible harm within reason

So for example to change a light bulb in an office with a normal ceiling height it would be safe to assume that a person could suffer substantial injuries if they were to fall from let’s say standing on a nearby swivel chair and computer desk to complete the task…

Hazard = Falling from height

(There are also other considerations such as electricity, manual handling, falling objects etc. but we will concentrate on just the falling from height issue for this example!)

Risk & Likelihood =  Higher than we would like due to equipment not fit for task, lack of training, the chair being able to swivel and roll and the desk may not be able to take weight etc.

Possible Outcome = Severe Injury and possible damage to nearby equipment and people etc.

The HSE has information on this

So first off the term should not require you (in the above scenario) to employ let’s say a fully qualified electrician complete with hiring MEWPS “Mobile Elevating Work Platform” IPAF certified on a minimum day rate and call out charge and so on to change a single office light bulb as this would be overkill for the simple task and is therefore beyond "reasonably practicable" in this particular case.

So with this in mind it would be reasonable to adopt some proper and fit for purpose equipment for the task as this should be an on-going maintenance task over time and not just a one off.

The term however may require something along the lines of… purchasing a set of podium steps and training the relevant staff on this equipment, also some training on working at height and changing light bulbs as this would be reasonably practicable due to the cost, time and effort. As this is heavily reducing the likelihood of anyone getting hurt it is potentially saving problems which could lead to lost productivity, court costs and fines from the HSE and so on.

So as with a lot of health and safety in the workplace it is down to you to risk assess the situation and ensure you put measures in place that are reasonably practicable to ensure all are safe.

Feel free to have a look at our risk assessment software and instructions here or contact us for more information.