I have seen and used the term So Far As Reasonably Practicable (SFARP) and As Low as reasonably Practicale (ALRP). But what is the difference?

This principle was established in The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which sets out how health and safety should be managed in a workplace. The Act introduced a number of duties for employers and employees, with the aim of ensuring health and safety, but they are qualified by the phrase “so far as is reasonably practicable”.

The main purpose of this wording is to allow some flexibility so that the law is not unduly prescriptive, and to make sure that the measures taken are proportionate to the risks involved. ALARP is a term used in risk assessment, to propose that any risk should be reduced to the lowest practical level, where it cannot be eliminated altogether.

Both phrases include the word “reasonably”, suggesting that the measures should consider the issues involved in putting measures in place and balancing the perceived risk — the likelihood that a particular outcome would come to pass, against the cost and complexity of introducing controls.

As a simple example, some construction work can involve hazards, but that is not in itself a reason for not doing it. If the risks can be controlled by reasonable means, so that the likelihood of accidents is as low as possible, without disproportionate effort or cost, then that should fall within the scope of “reasonably practicable”.

The challenge is to demonstrate that this is the case, and that involves judgement and justification, which in turn will be subject to scrutiny.

Ultimately, however, the responsibility to show that proposals are “reasonably practicable” rests with the duty holder under the relevant legislation.

If there is a problem, however, it is likely that the level of reasonableness will be determined in court, so the best approach is to avoid having any accidents in the first place.

Things to look out for include the following:

There is a hierarchy of risk control — typically involving five stages, from identification, through complete elimination to providing protective measures. Each stage should consider proportionality and reasonableness and should be able to show a clear decision-making process, which in turn should be available for inspection when required.

As Regulator for the purposes of health and safety law in the UK, HSE will usually be called to determine whether measures have been applied reasonably. It makes sense, therefore, to refer to their guidance throughout the process. (Approved Codes of Practice and Guidance documents.)

One of the cornerstones of the risk management process is accountability. It is important to identify who the duty holders are in a particular circumstance, together with their roles and responsibilities. This will make the process easier to follow and understand, as well as clarifying how these work in practice.