H&S Quick Hit: Explaining “So Far As Is Reasonably Practicable”

Alison Cook, head of health & safety at Midlands-based Wastecycle Ltd, explains the phrase “so far as is reasonably practicable” with regards to H&S. Alison works to continuously improve risk control across the business.

Welcome to my first health and safety (H&S) quick hit – these will be upon one of 3 themes: being on receiving end of regulation, what is “hot” in H&S and H&S debunked. Let’s start with debunking one aspect of H&S.

This time last year I was working in the HSE getting ready for a hearing in crown court, but now, I am working to improve the safety and health of those who do work for Wastecycle.

The job is a lively one and has reinforced my long-held belief that every bit of time spent in the name of safety or health has to reduce risk exposure. Why? Because I fully understand the original intent of the phrase “so far as is reasonably practicable” (SFARP).

SFARP requires you to balance the risk against the time, trouble and resources required to control it. If you could prevent an employee getting a paper cut but it would cost £20,000, this would not be “reasonably practicable”.

Enshrined in the well-constructed and internationally respected Health and Safety at Work Etc Act 1974, this key phrase has led industries and the HSE to continuously improve H&S standards. Partly, because it forces the exploitation of technological developments to better control risks.

SFARP requires you to balance the risk against the time, trouble and resources required to control it. If you could prevent an employee getting a paper cut but it would cost £20,000, this would not be “reasonably practicable”.

However, if someone could lose their finger, then spending £20,000 is required. So, what does this mean you have to do?

  1. Know what the outcome could be if you do nothing.
  2. Work out what you can do to control the risk (remember technology can really help) and decide what controls are proportionate to the risk.
  3. Put the controls in place – SFARP requires you to actually DO something
  4. Check how well the controls are working and improve if required

But in all of this, remember to spend your time on what matters; the greater the risk, the more focus it deserves. Focus on the life ending and life changing risks first. People matter.

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