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What is ‘reasonably practicable’

Businesses must always consider first whether they can reasonably eliminate risks. If not they must take reasonably practicable steps to minimise risks under new health and safety laws. But what might this mean for your business?

There is a lot of misinformation and confusion about what reasonably practicable means.

It DOESN’T mean you have to:

It DOESN’T mean you have to:

  • do everything humanly possible to prevent accidents
  • buy the most expensive equipment on the market
  • spend the bulk of your week on H&S training, compliance and documentation.
It DOES mean you need to:

It DOES mean you need to:

  • determine what kinds of risks are caused by your work
  • consider how likely those risks are
  • take appropriate action that is proportionate to the injury or illness that could occur
  • implement well-known and effective industry practices
  • involve your staff in identifying and controlling risks.

The upshot is you’re expected to do what a reasonable person would do in your situation. It’s about taking responsibility for what you can control.

How to assess health and safety risks

Knowing the risks in your sector (external link)  — WorkSafe

Reasonably practicable steps

Example #1

Tim manages a small carpentry crew working on a renovation project. When he discovers asbestos behind the plasterboard — a well-recognised industry hazard — Tim immediately sees the risks. He stops all work and calls a certified asbestos remover to come in and take over.

Due to the fact that asbestos risks are well known, as are the control mechanisms around its removal, Tim has managed the risk so far as is reasonably practicable.

Example #2

While on a job, two builders have to spend a single day outside drilling. The work will cause a lot of dust and both the foreman and the workers recognise the dust is not good for either them or those nearby.

Together they decide that, while they can’t eliminate the problem altogether, they can keep dust levels down by using a water spray and regularly cleaning up. They can also wear masks while working. Barricades are erected to keep others away.

As this is an isolated task and not part of their day-to-day work, and because some kind of dust extraction unit would be too expensive for a one-day job, they’ve done what is reasonably practicable.

Not reasonably practicable steps

Example #1

Trudi works at a retail store where she regularly has to climb a ladder to stock high shelves. The ladder she’s been given is wobbly and also a bit short. This means Trudi has to reach quite high while on an unstable ladder. She feels unsafe doing this and tells her manager she is uncomfortable with the task. In turn, the manager tells Trudi she has to keep using it because it’s the only ladder the shop has. This would be considered unreasonable due to the minimal costs associated with getting a safer ladder and the high potential for Trudi to get hurt.

Example #2

Jono’s timber yard has workers, wholesalers and customers regularly driving in and out of the premises. Jono is worried about accidents caused by poor traffic flow. Rather than simply painting clear parking lines, and putting up speed limits and clear ‘Enter’ and ‘Exit’ signs, Jono gets a boom gate installed. While Jono has definitely met his duty, it’s probably beyond what is reasonably practicable.

WorkSafe also explains that addressing H&S issues should be considered against a number of factors.

“What is reasonably practicable takes into account how much is commonly known about the risks involved, as well as the recognised ways of eliminating and minimising them,” a spokesperson says.

“The availability and cost of safeguards should also be considered. The question is not whether the business has the cash on hand to pay for the solution, but rather whether the cost is proportionate to the harm that could result. No one expects NASA-type technology where the risk is relatively low and a cost-effective and simple solution could work.

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