Understanding Responsibilities – What does the law require you to do?

OK, so you know as a duty holder you have health and safety responsibilities – but what should you worry about, how far should you go, what’s the best way to carry out your responsibilities, when do you stop and what’s there to guide you?

The minimum you need to do is comply with the law, as the law sets the boundaries within which companies must operate.  However, from what you’ve seen and heard so far, you’ll realise that there are many benefits to your business from managing safely.

As a duty holder, depending on national or local laws and where you are in the world, you may be required to assess ‘reasonably foreseeable risks and put in place control measures to reduce the risks so far as is reasonably practicable.  the UK is a country that has this requirement.

Reasonable foreseeability – being responsible for everything that is foreseeable would be a burdensome task.  Instead the law tries to be fair by requiring you to be responsible only for reasonably foreseeable risks.  For example, if you see a trailing cable across a doorway you know tha there’s a high risk that someone will trip over it.

Employers aren’t responsible for issues thay can successfully argue as ‘not reasonably foreseeable’, but are responsible where reasonable foreseeability can be argued.

To help you further, there are three tests you can apply:

You’re expected to foresee what the average person in the street would have foreseen, as that information is common knowledge.  For example, if the public would have known that working on a roof in a gale without anything to stop a fall was dangerous, then so should the employer.

If a safety issue is beyond public knowledge, your company is expected to have the same level of background knowledge as other companies working in the same industry.

For example, if a company was using a chemical and didn’t realise how dangerous it was, but the rest of the industry had realised for years, and had introduced control measures or had replaced it with an alternative, the employer wouldn’t be able to argue against reasonable foreseeability.

Only if you’re an expert are you expecting to have expert knowledge.  For example, a research chemist would quite reasonably be expected to understand all the different properties of the substances they were handling, even if some risks were peculiar to the substance in very specific circumstances, beyond normal use.

In summary, an employer must be able to demonstrate reasonable foreseeability of significant risks covered by tests one and two but they would rarely face an expectation under test three, unless they were an expert.

Consider the jobs you and your team do at work that give rise to reasonably foreseeable concerns.  Those are the ones you need to act on.

Reasonable practicability

We’ve already covered this in the previous lesson, but just to recap, this means that if the cost – in terms of time, effort, money or inconvenience – associated with the risk control outweighs the benefits of the risk reduction, then it’s not ‘reasonably practicable’ to use that risk control.