This is a part of the law which acknowledges that we cannot eliminate all risks and places an ‘absolute duty’ on business to assess risk - and reduce the potential for harm.
Put simply this means you must complete a risk assessment on workplace activities and failure to do so is an offence, even if no harm has been caused.
The history behind this is a pivotal case in health and safety law:
The 1949 case revolved around whether it was "reasonably practicable" to prevent even the smallest possibility of a rock fall in a coal mine.
The case turned when it was decided that it was not 'all of the roadways' that needed shoring up; just the ones that required it. In essence this established the need to carry out a risk assessment to establish the cost, time and trouble to mitigate a risk balanced against the risk of any harm it might cause.
Judge Asquith said
“Reasonably practicable is a narrower term than ‘physically possible’ and implies that a computation must be made... in which the quantum of risk is placed in one scale and the sacrifice involved in the measures necessary for averting the risk (whether in time, trouble or money) is placed in the other and that, if it be shown that there is a great disproportion between them – the risk being insignificant in relation to the sacrifice – the person upon whom the obligation is imposed discharges the onus which is upon him. It’s a balance between risk of harm vs sacrifice (time, trouble or money)”
We need to establish the risk of harm for a business activity – which is an adverse effect, such as physical injury, detriment to heath, either acute, right now, or chronic, which is an accumulate harm over time, such as occupational hearing loss.
Once we have established the potential harm, we must then look at ways to reduce either the likelihood or severity of that harm occurring – these are ‘control measures’.
This is a graphic representation on what we are trying to achieve with a risk assessment.
So thinking about the law and "reasonably practicable" we can now perhaps understand how ‘high risk’ businesses can still operate and not be in breach of the law – otherwise we’d never have deep sea welders or bomb disposal teams!
If we are implementing a robust safety management system, this is a key part of the ‘do' stage.
If you would like more information, please contact us us for a free consultation with one of our team.