1 – Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 outlines the general duties employers have towards their employees, employers have to the general public, and the duties of employees towards each other. In a sense, these duties are categorized into absolute duties and duties that are reasonably practicable. Absolute duties and practices are practicable in the sense that the duty holder must do everything within his power, regardless of the time and money constraints, to perform the duty and abide with the outlined responsibility (HSE, 2009). Reasonably practicable on the other hand is a lesser standard than practicable duties as outlined in section 7A of HSWA 1974.
According to the Court of Appeal in Edwards v. National Coal Board in its definition of reasonably practicable, duty holders must balance the risks involved against the sacrifice that must be taken to avert the risks. In other words, reasonably practicable duties are those duties where the risks involved in a particular job or in the workplace are to be weighed against the cost, time, and trouble required in taking measure against the risk.
If a gross disproportion exist between the risk and the sacrifice, with the risk being insignificant to the sacrifice involved, the duty holder can not be held criminally liable. 2 – In workplace health and safety, the terms Regulations, Guidance, and Approved Codes of Practice have different meanings and functions. Regulations identify workplace-related risks and outlines specific measures that must be taken to avoid accidents in the workplace. What these regulations set out is considered absolute in the sense that all employers and employees must follow these regulations whether they are reasonably practicable or not.
An example of a workplace regulation is employees in construction sites must wear protective hats at all times. Guidance on the other hand aims to interpret certain provisions required in HSWA vis-à-vis the other legal requirements on workplace safety. Guidance can be very generic pertaining to the processes involved in various industries or can be very specific in outlining the processes involved in a particular industry, as long as it helps stakeholders comply with the given law or requirement. Unlike regulations, guidance is not compulsory.
Stakeholders can take alternative course of actions not offered in the guidance. Approved Code of Practices in the context of workplace health and safety offers practical advice on how specific HSWA regulations must be carried out by stakeholders in order to comply with the law. It clears terms and provides illustrations on how these terms can be carried out. For example, Approved Code of Practice can provide a guide to stakeholders which practices are reasonably applicable. 3 – The following are the factors that need consideration in carrying out a risk assessment as required by Article 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999: (for employers) (a) the risks to the health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work; and (b) the risks to the health and safety of persons not in his employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct by him of his undertaking.
For self-employed, (a) the risks to his own health and safety which he is exposed while he is at work; and (b) the risks to the health and safety of persons not in his employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct by him of his undertaking for the purpose of identifying the measures he needs to take to comply with the requirements and prohibitions imposed upon him by or under the relevant statutory provisions (Crown Copyright, 1999).