Reasonably practicable means
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?
Reasonably practical 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.
Reasonably practicable 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.
Reasonably practicable steps
Mikey manages a small drain-laying crew working on replacing a sewerage line. When he discovers the old piping looks like it contains asbestos— a well-recognized industry hazard — Mikey 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, Mikey has managed the risk so far as is reasonably practicable.
Two carpenters are removing brickwork from an old fireplace during the house renovation. They recognise that the bricks have a high silica content and removal may cause a considerable level of dust.
Together they decide that, while they can’t eliminate the problem altogether, they can prevent the dust from dispersing through the room and other parts of the house by using a HEPA filter vacuum and regularly monitoring the area, and wearing reusable particulate filter masks. The door is closed to further minimise the spread and to keep others away.
As dust is a routine part of their day-to-day work, and the dust extraction unit is not too expensive they’ve done what is reasonably practicable.
Not reasonably practicable steps
Bob is a welder in an engineering shop where structural steel is welded and painted. His issued personal protective equipment is limited to a welding helmet and gloves, and overalls. His boss keeps the roller doors open but closes them during foul weather. The boss considers that the roof is sufficiently high that the welding and paint fumes won’t be a problem.
Bob feels the lack of fresh air and lack of fume extraction is unhealthy for all workers and he is uncomfortable with the environment. In response, the owner tells Bob he has to keep working and the doors won’t be closed all day. This situation would be considered not reasonably practical due to the known health harm of welding fumes and the solvent paints used to coat steel.
Mac’s timber supplies have customers, workers, cars towing trailers, and large trucks regularly driving in and out of the premises through a single gate. Staff are worried about accidents caused by poor traffic flow and inattentive drivers. Mac puts a large sign at the gate with a 10K speed restriction. Mac does not wish to spend money improving the site as it is only leased, and he will get no return on any additional improvements.
This would be considered NOT reasonably practical due to the significant risk of serious injury from a vehicle versus pedestrian collision or vehicle versus vehicle collision.