SFAIRP not equivalent to ALARP

Richard RobinsonRisk Management

The idea that SFAIRP (so far as is reasonably practicable) is not equivalent to ALARP (as low as reasonably practicable) was discussed in Richard Robinson’s article in the January 2014 edition of Engineers Australia Magazine generates commentary to the effect that major organisations like Standards Australia, NOPSEMA and the UK Health & Safety Executive say that it is. The following review considers each briefly. This is an extract from the 2014 update of the R2A Text (Section 15.3).

The UK HSE’s document, ALARP “at a glance”1 notes:

You may come across it as SFAIRP (“so far as is reasonably practicable”) or ALARP (“as low as reasonably practicable”). SFAIRP is the term most often used in the Health and Safety at Work etc Act and in Regulations. ALARP is the term used by risk specialists, and duty-holders are more likely to know it. We use ALARP in this guidance. In HSE’s view, the two terms are interchangeable except if you are drafting formal legal documents when you must use the correct legal phrase.

R2A’s view is that the prudent approach is to always use the correct legal term in the way the courts apply it, irrespective of what a regulator says to the contrary.

NOPSEMA are quite clearly focussed on the precautionary approach to risk. Their briefing paper on ALARP2 indicates in the Core Concepts that:

Many of the requirements are qualified by the phrase “reduce the risks to a level that is as low as reasonably practicable”. This means that the operator has to show, through reasoned and supported arguments, that there are no other practical measures that could reasonably be taken to reduce risks further. (Bolding by R2A).

That is, NOPSEMA wish to ensure that all reasonable practicable precautions are in place which is the SFAIRP concept. Indeed, later in Section 8, Good practice and reasonable practicability, there is a discussion concerning the legal, court driven approach to risk. Whilst ALARP is mostly used elsewhere in the document, here NOPSEMA notes:

When reviewing health or safety control measures for an existing facility, plant, installation or for a particular situation (such as when considering retrofitting, safety reviews or upgrades), operators should compare existing measures against current good practice. The good practice measures should be adopted so far as is reasonably practicable. It might not be reasonably practicable to apply retrospectively to existing plant, for example, all the good practice expected for new plant. However, there may still be ways to reduce the risk e.g. by partial solutions, alternative measures, etc. (Bolding by R2A).

Standards Australia seems to be severely conflicted in this area in many standards, some of which are called up by statute. For example, the Power System Earthing Guide presents huge difficulties.

Another example is AS 5577 – 2013 Electricity network safety management systems. Section 1.2 Fundamental Principles point (e): which requires life cycle SFAIRP for risk elimination and ALARP for risk management:

  1. Hazards associated with the design, construction, commissioning, operation, maintenance and decommissioning of electrical networks are identified, recorded, assessed and managed by eliminating safety risks so far as is reasonably practicable, and if it is not reasonably practicable to do so, by reducing those risks to as low as reasonably practicable. (Bolding by R2A).

It seems that Standards Australia simply do not see that there is a difference. The terms appear to be used interchangeably.

Safe Work Australia is only SFAIRP3. There does not appear to be any confusion whatsoever. For example, the Interpretative Guideline – Model Work Health and Safety Act The Meaning of ‘Reasonably Practicable’ indicates:

What is ‘reasonably practicable’ is determined objectively. This means that a duty-holder must meet the standard of behaviour expected of a reasonable person in the duty-holder’s position and who is required to comply with the same duty.

There are two elements to what is ‘reasonably practicable’. A duty-holder must first consider what can be done – that is, what is possible in the circumstances for ensuring health and safety. They must then consider whether it is reasonable, in the circumstances to do all that is possible.

This means that what can be done should be done unless it is reasonable in the circumstances for the duty-holder to do something less.

This approach is consistent with the objects of the WHS Act which include the aim of ensuring that workers and others are provided with the highest level of protection that is reasonably practicable.

ALARP is simply not mentioned, anywhere.

 

1http://www.hse.gov.uk/risk/theory/alarpglance.htm?goback=%2Egde_2315060_member_187907945#%21 viewed 9 Decemebr 2013
2http://www.nopsema.gov.au/assets/Guidance-notes/N-04300-GN0166-ALARP.pdf viewed 19 December 2013
3http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/SWA/about/Publications/Documents/607/Interpretive%20guideline%20-%20reasonably%20practicable.pdf  Viewed 22 July 2013