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'So far as is reasonably practicable'

Why is this term important?

Section 7 of the Railways Act 2005(external link) (the Act) states:

‘A rail participant must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that none of the rail activities for which it is responsible causes, or is likely to cause, the death of, or serious injury to, individuals.’

Section 9 of the Act includes:

‘Every person on or near a rail vehicle, railway infrastructure, or railway premises commits an offence who fails to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that no individual dies or is seriously injured, and that no property is significantly damaged, as a result of any act or omission of that person.’

Sections 65 and 66 of the Act also use the term when explaining the threshold for an offence.

What does it mean?

Section 5 of the Act is titled ‘Meaning of reasonably practicable’, and contains a definition you can read here(external link). However, we’ve had a lot of feedback requesting more guidance, which is why we’ve created this page.

When the term ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’ is used, it means putting in place the highest level of protection considering what can be done and whether it is reasonable given the circumstances. In the context of reducing risks, it also takes into account your operating environment, the benefits to safety gained and the costs (in money, resources and creating different risks).

It doesn’t mean you have to adopt every conceivable safety measure, or that every risk has to be reduced immediately. We know there are practical limits to what is technically possible, what is available, what is cost effective and how fast it can be done.

Factoring in costs

Costs should be the last consideration in terms of what is reasonably practicable as this ensures feasible solutions are not dismissed due to assumptions about cost. The law makes it quite clear that, for cost to be a reason not to adopt a safety control, it must be grossly disproportionate to the benefits.

The greater the degree of potential harm, the more effort (and potential expense) will be expected in regards to ensuring safety. This balance must be assessed on a case-by-case basis, but would need to be several times the benefits before it could be considered ‘grossly disproportionate’.

The budget you have available is not a relevant factor – if you cannot afford to adopt a control but the cost isn’t grossly disproportionate, you should not do the activity.

How to demonstrate you’re managing your risks ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’

When making decisions around how you’re managing the safety of your rail activities, you should follow the steps laid out in Section 5 of the Act. Doing this will help you ascertain for yourself whether you’re managing your risks so far as is reasonably practicable, and it will also allow you to clearly demonstrate this fact when you need to (eg during a rail safety assessment).

While you need to take into account all relevant matters for each decision, the steps include considering:

  • the likelihood of the hazard or the risk concerned occurring
  • the degree of harm or damage that might result from the hazard or risk
  • what the person concerned knows, or ought reasonably to know, about:
  • the hazard or risk, and
  • ways of eliminating or minimising the risk
  • the availability and suitability of ways to eliminate or minimise the risk, and
  • 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.

Prioritising and systematically addressing your risks

We don’t expect you to solve every risk immediately – particularly the lower frequency, high consequence ones that require an organisational response. But you should be prioritising your risks and committing resources to eliminate or minimise them.

As the regulator, we expect you to be able to demonstrate that you have a clear, well-resourced pathway to systematically address your risks – even if it may be several years until some are fully addressed. In these cases interim measures should be considered to maintain safety, such as temporary safety protections or operating restrictions.

Further information

Further information about ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’ can be found in:

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