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Health and safety where reasonably practicable

Published 18th November, 2022 by Stan Atkins

Health and safety where reasonably practicable

It is often cited that the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 was the first piece of major health and safety legislation.

This is incorrect as effectively it drew together various pieces of individual Legislation - eg, the Offices, Shops and Railways Premises Act 1963 - then updated and combined them into one white paper. The phrase that has stuck in my mind from reading the white paper and the subsequent TUC Guide to the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 was ‘where reasonably practicable’.

Health and safety guidance goes back a very long time - Deuteronomy Chapter 22, V8: “When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof.”

Falls on the tube escalators rise as users fear catching COVID-19 if they hold onto the handrails. This, as with many other risks, could be reduced if passengers carried out a simple risk assessment as one is supposed to do when crossing the road (remember the Green Cross Code Man?). Depending on the passenger’s agility, it is probably better to hold the handrail and use a hand sanitiser at the end of your escalator experience.

“Apple trees in a village park face being cut down as councillors fear that fallen fruit could pose a trip hazard. Westwood Parish Council in Wiltshire plans to remove four of the five old trees which line a footpath in Westwood Park, arguing walkers could trip over apples that have fallen from their branches. However, villagers criticised the decision as eco vandalism. A petition was launched, and it was argued that chopping down the trees will mean less CO2 is absorbed, wildlife habitat is destroyed and a source of pleasure for adults and children is reduced to four stumps.

It was also argued that leaving behind four tree stumps is as much a trip hazard as fallen apples. The Clerk to the Parish Council is understood to have come to the decision to remove the trees after a lengthy discussion. A tree surgeon has reportedly been employed to carry out the work.” (Ref: Phoebe Southworth).

Here are the Hierarchy of Controls:

Elimination: physical removal of the hazard. This is the most effective hazard control. For example, if employees must work high above the ground, the hazard can be eliminated by moving the piece they are working on to ground level to eliminate the need to work at height.

Substitution: the second most effective hazard control involves replacing something that produces a hazard (similar to elimination) with something that does not produce a hazard. For example, replacing lead-based paint.

Engineering controls: these controls do not eliminate hazards but rather isolate people from hazards. Capital costs of engineered controls tend to be higher than less effective controls in the hierarchy, however they may reduce future costs. For example, a crew might build a work platform rather than purchase, replace and maintain fall arrest equipment.

Administrative controls: these controls are changes to the way people work. Examples of administrative controls include procedure change, employee training and installation of signs and warning labels.

Personal protective equipment (PPE): includes gloves, respirators, hard hats, safety glasses, highvisibility clothing, and safety footwear.

In my opinion, the way to tackle these issues is not to start at the top of the hierarchy of controls (elimination) but start at the bottom with personal protective equipment and work your way up the list, stopping at the point where it is a reasonably practicable solution which, in the case cited, is probably engineered controls or substitution. In the case of falling apples, what would have happened if Sir Isaac Newton had pressed for a personal injury claim for an apple falling on his head?

About the contributor

Stan Atkins

Stan Atkins



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