A stack of safety hats and gloves on a construction site

In health and safety, what does ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’ mean?

In health and safety legislation, including the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, the phrase ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’ (SFARP) is often used. In this article we will explain exactly what this means and how to demonstrate compliance with it.

How is SFARP defined?

SFARP was defined by the Court of Appeal (in its judgment in Edwards v. National Coal Board, [1949] 1 All ER 743) as: 

“‘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.” 

What do organisations need to know? 

SFARP is known as a qualified duty under legislation and allows you to justify why control measures have been chosen. It is the lowest level of legal duty, enabling you to balance the outcome of the risk against the cost involved in taking steps to reduce it. If the cost outweighs the risk reduction gained and is obstructive to the business, then the measure cannot be considered  as reasonably practicable, and alternative options need to be looked at.

However, it is not just financial implications that need to be considered. The calculation also needs to take into account other factors, such as the time, effort and resource involved in both implementing the measure and maintaining it in the future. 

Hierarchy of controls 

One approach that should be considered is the hierarchy of controls, which is eliminate, reduce or replace, isolate and control (ERIC). The approach with the hierarchy of controls is eliminate the hazard if you can, but if that is not possible you should reduce or replace it. The next step would be to isolate the hazard, and finally use controls to mitigate the risk. 

The final point to note about SFARP is that it is the minimum level of risk reduction. If it is possible to do more, then you always should do so in order to demonstrate that you are taking the risk seriously and protecting your employees. 

Aegis can assist companies in meeting their health and safety obligations. If you need help from us, please get in touch with our team of highly qualified experts today.