How to determine what is reasonably practicable to meet a WHS duty – Safe Work Australia


Safe Work Australia has recently published its Guide on “How to determine what is reasonably practicable to meet a health and safety duty” (the Guide).

The Guide is aimed at assisting a person conducting a business or undertaking (the duty-holder/PCBU) to meet the standard of health and safety required under the model Work Health and Safety Act (the WHS Act).

How to determine what is reasonably practicable to meet a WHS duty -Safe Work Australia

Reasonably practicable

The Guide is quite useful in assisting employers to understand the basics required to satisfy the “reasonably practicable” requirements.

The Guide outlines two elements:

  • What can be done to ensure health and safety; and
  • Whether it is in reasonable in the circumstances.

These requirements involve weighing up factors such as the likelihood that a risk will occur, the resultant degree of harm from the risk, what the person knows or ought to know about the risk, the availability and suitability of ways to eliminate the risk and assessing the potential cost of these measures to determine whether the cost is disproportionate to the risk.

Eliminating risk as far as is reasonably practicable requires a balance of what is possible and reasonable in the circumstances that will result in the highest possible level of protection.

Identifying the circumstances, hazards and risks

What is reasonably practicable will have reference to the particular circumstances of each situation. This requires consideration of the physical environment, the suitability of specific measures, the number of people involved, processes currently in place and legislative requirements.

The Guide states that a hazard is “a situation or thing that has the potential to harm a person”.

The PCBU has a duty to identify hazards in the work environment. There are a number of ways hazards can be identified, including:

  • Inspections;
  • Consultation; and
  • Use of Codes of Practice and/or technical standards.

Once workplace hazards have been identified it is necessary to determine the risks associated with each hazard. In many cases, the PCBU should organise a risk assessment to determine the steps to minimise or eliminate any risk.

Determining what can be done

The next step is to determine the control measures that are most suitable for each particular risk. These can be identified through various sources including work health and safety regulators, technical standards, or industry publications.

What is reasonable to do?

If a risk cannot be eliminated, it must be minimised so far as is reasonably practicable to the highest possible level. To determine what is reasonably practicable, the PCBU must make an assessment of what a reasonable person would do in the circumstances, erring on the side of caution.

The cost of a control measure must only be considered once the extent of the risk and the possible ways of eliminating or minimising it have been considered. The cost may include purchase costs, installation fees and potential operation and maintenance costs. It is also necessary to consider the impact on productivity and the financial implication of this.

Depending on the level of risk, cost may be a less important factor. As stated in the Guide, “The more likely the hazard or risk, or the greater the harm that may result from it, the less weight should be given to the cost of eliminating the hazard or risk”.

The Guide is available to be downloaded from


[Posted on behalf of workcovervitim]