Writing and Research in the Workplace

Health and safety frameworks and regulations

Participants in health and safety frameworks

In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive performs both the regulator and enforcer roles.

Hazards and risks

A hazard is something (e.g. an object, a property of a substance, a phenomenon or an activity) that can cause adverse effects. For example:

A risk is the likelihood that a hazard will actually cause its adverse effects, together with a measure of the effect. It is a two-part concept and both parts are required to make sense of it. Likelihoods can be expressed as probabilities (e.g. "one in a thousand"), frequencies (e.g. "1000 cases per year") or in a qualitative way (e.g. "negligible", "significant", etc.). The effect can be described in many different ways. For example:

Source: Health and Safety Executive. (n.d.). ALARP at a glance. Retrieved from http://www.hse.gov.uk/risk/theory/alarpglance.htm

Hazard symbols and hazard pictograms

Some hazard symbols might be found in the university labs to indicate health and safety risks.

What are examples of health and safety risks related to these topics?

Tolerability of health and safety risks

What criteria might be used to decide tolerability of these risks?

Concept of reasonably practicable

The concept of reasonably practicable is key to the implementation and enforcement of health and safety regulations, which involves weighing a risk against the trouble, time and money needed to control it.

The definition set out by the Court of Appeal (in its judgment in Edwards v. National Coal Board, [1949] 1 All ER 743) is:

"'Reasonably practicable' is a narrower term than 'physically possible' … a computation must be made by the owner in which the quantum of risk is placed on one scale and the sacrifice involved in the measures necessary for averting the risk (whether in money, time or trouble) is placed in the other, and that, if it be shown that there is a gross disproportion between them – the risk being insignificant in relation to the sacrifice – the defendants discharge the onus on them."

In essence, making sure a risk has been reduced as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP) is about weighing the risk against the sacrifice needed to further reduce it. The decision is weighted in favour of health and safety because the presumption is that the duty-holder should implement the risk reduction measure. To avoid having to make this sacrifice, the duty-holder must be able to show that it would be grossly disproportionate to the benefits of risk reduction that would be achieved. Thus, the process is not one of balancing the costs and benefits of measures but, rather, of adopting measures except where they are ruled out because they involve grossly disproportionate sacrifices. Extreme examples might be:

Of course, in reality many decisions about risk and the controls that achieve ALARP are not so obvious. Factors come into play such as ongoing costs set against remote chances of one-off events, or daily expense and supervision time required to ensure that, for example, employees wear ear defenders set against a chance of developing hearing loss at some time in the future. It requires judgment. There is no simple formula for computing what is ALARP.

Source: Health and Safety Executive. (n.d.). ALARP at a glance. Retrieved from http://www.hse.gov.uk/risk/theory/alarpglance.htm

What is reasonably practicable?

Key health and safety legislation and regulations that affect UK organisations

Apathy about health and safety is the most difficult risk to manage

"Apathy is the greatest single contributing factor to accidents at work. This attitude will not be cured so long as people are encouraged to think that health and safety at work can be ensured by an ever-expanding body of legal regulations enforced by an ever-increasing army of inspectors."
– Quote from Robens Committee report in 1972