by Drew Underwood, Senior Consultant, HCS Safety Ltd

With the process of our exit from the European Union continuing, it seems a good time to look at an issue on which European lawmakers have always disagreed with their British counterparts; our approach to implementing sensible, proportionate measures to protect people from harm at work.

The phrase ‘So far as is reasonably practicable’ is a fundamental phrase in health and safety law in the UK. It is also one that Europe has long disliked and have in fact tried to prevent us from using during a 2-year long case in the European Courts. Which we won.

British health and safety law is based around the idea that competent people should be able to make sensible decisions based on their knowledge of risks and how to control them. In short it is what allows us to have proportionate solutions rather than prescriptive ones.

Where the phrase ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’ is used, it allows us to balance the time, effort and cost of the control measures against the risk that we are seeking to control. Of course, this does mean that we have to assess the risks of our work, but it allows us to avoid the more ridiculous measures that would be in place if we tried to have a rule for every scenario.

Risk assessment is the linchpin of this process. By understanding how dangerous a job really is, we can find ‘reasonably practicable’ ways of completing a job safely without going over the top. Done right, a risk assessment allows us to find ways to safely carry out the most dangerous of activities rather than banning people from taking part in them.

It may not be perfect but its our way and regardless of what happens during Brexit negotiations, we will be keeping it.

For more info on how to make ‘reasonably practicable’ decisions, our risk assessment course can help you come up with your sensible solutions.

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