What are “reasonable steps” to take?

A big part of the current WHS laws and regulations is the concept of “reasonable”.

It’s repeated often in such phrases as “reasonable person”, “reasonably practicable”, “reasonable management action” and “reasonable steps”.

Clearly it’s important to know what is meant by this deceptively simple word when it’s used in WHS.

What “reasonable” is NOT!

It’s not just a case of looking at a situation and saying “I think it’s reasonable to do it this way.” It’s not talking about a gut feeling or compromise situation either.

In the laws and regulations “reasonable” is not subjective. There are very clear standards set out to help you work out what is “reasonable” in a particular situation.

What “reasonable” is.

To help understand what’s meant here’s what the WHS Act says about “reasonably practicable”:

“In this Act, reasonably practicable, in relation to a duty to ensure health and safety, means that which is, or was at a particular time, reasonably able to be done in relation to ensuring health and safety, taking into account and weighing up all relevant matters including:—

  1. the likelihood of the hazard or the risk concerned occurring; and
  2. the degree of harm that might result from the hazard or the risk; and
  3. what the person concerned knows, or ought reasonably to know, about—the availability and suitability of ways to eliminate or minimise the risk; and
    1. the hazard or the risk; and
    2. ways of eliminating or minimising the risk; and
  4. the availability and suitability of ways to eliminate or minimise the risk; and
  5. after assessing the extent of the risk and the available ways of eliminating or minimising the risk, the cost associated with available ways of eliminating or minimising the risk, including whether the cost is grossly disproportionate to the risk.”

Taken from Section 18, Queensland WHS Act 2011

As you can see, the Act’s 5 clear steps to determining what “reasonably practicable” are a process that needs to be followed. So clearly there is a need to make a serious assessment of the situation before making a decision.

Summing up the above steps, you need to assess the situation and plan out the best possible course of action, when all possible factors are taken into account.

How can you make sure you are being “reasonable”?

The best way to ensure you are being reasonable in the WHS sense is to ask yourself some key questions about each of the above steps

  1. How likely is the situation to occur? The more likely, the more urgent the need to address the situation.
  2. What injury and damage would occur is this did happen? Again, the more serious the consequences, the more urgent the need to deal with the situation.
  3. What level of skill and safety knowledge can I expect of the workers in this situation? Is this situation part of training already or do they need additional information and skill?
  4. What options are available to deal with the situation? – What solutions could we implement?
  5. What costs are involved in dealing with the situation? – How big a cost will these options add to the process? Is the cost way out of proportion for the level and type of risk involved?

Asking these and similar questions can help you to determine a reasonable course of action.

(Just a note about that last factor – choosing a cheaper option, JUST BECAUSE IT’S CHEAPER may not be considered reasonable, unless you can show that it can be expected to provide the same level of protection as a more expensive option).

This has just been a summary of how to determine what is reasonable and in future posts we’ll look at each step in more detail.

In the meantime, if you need help with working out what’s reasonable for your workplace, call us on 1300 130 385 or use our WHS Services enquiry form and we can get you moving in the right direction.

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