ALARP – What does it mean and how is it applied in practice?

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ALARP is a principle used in health and safety management – but what does it mean and how is it applied in practice?  In this short vodcast, engineering, occupational health, and legal experts from Finch Consulting come together to discuss the obligation ALARP  imposes on employers, and how to achieve compliance.

ALARP is an acronym and stands for as low as reasonably practicable and this has a particular meaning as a tenet that underpins much of what we do in health and safety. It means fundamentally that we need to get risk as low as we possibly can. But clearly, there’s a legal definition that underpins this.

As a health and safety lawyer, what do we mean as reasonably practicable? 

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 doesn’t refer to ALARP as such.  The key duties are under section 2 and section 3 for an employer to take all reasonably practicable steps – but effectively it means the same thing. You’ve got to reduce the risks to the lowest level that is practicable. Perhaps more importantly than that though, is understanding that if you’re prosecuted for a breach of that duty, the obligation is not on the prosecution to prove that you didn’t take all reasonably practicable steps. It’s on you as the Defendant to prove that you did.

As an engineer, how would you establish proof of ALARP?

As an engineer, we typically focus on the Approved Codes of Practice and the standards that are available, and the Guidance so it can be proved that we have achieved ALARP.  One of the things with the Approved Codes of Practice is that if you follow them, it gives you a presumption of legal compliance. If you don’t follow them the key thing to note is you are responsible for effectively proving that you have done something that provides an equivalent level of protection, i.e., is suitable and sufficient.  A typical example would be in machinery guarding.  If you have a dangerous part of a machine, you have to protect against access. Depending on how easy it is to access and how frequent access is required would direct what you need to do to minimise the risk –  whether that is a complicated control system with an interlock or potentially just a simple guard that has a bolt.

How does Occupational safety look at this issue?

ALARP has a particular meaning for someone who is involved in occupational hygiene in terms of keeping exposures to chemicals, for example, as low as possible.  It is particularly important as we have workplace exposure limits.  But they’re not safe levels we should keep below.  They’re a guide and we should keep as low as possible below those exposure limits.  Also, we have sensitive individuals in the workplace people who are sensitive to particular chemicals like isocyanates where exposure could cause asthma. So, it is very important to keep exposures as low as possible.

Summary

ALARP is another way of describing the legal obligation to take all reasonably practical steps to reduce risks to health and safety.  The burden on proof is on you to demonstrate that you took all such steps.  If you follow available Guidance and if you follow Approved Codes of Practice, in particular, there will be a presumption that you have complied with the requirement.  If you are not taking steps to do something then it is a good idea to record that and explain why so that you have that record as proof of your justification for what was or was not reasonably practicable.

For any more information on ALARP please contact [email protected], an experienced health and safety solicitor, [email protected], a chartered mechanical engineer and [email protected], an occupational hygienist.

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