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Don't have nightmares

The HSE's new brochure on risk aims to outline the balance between healthy and hazardous risk-taking

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has brought out a useful and readable document on its activities and decision-making procedures.

The booklet, Reducing Risks, Protecting People, is irritatingly referred to as 'R2P2'. Rather than providing architects with guidance on what standards to design to, the document is intended to provide an insight into the tortured mind of the HSE. Coincidentally, it may provide clues on how individual officers might react to actual circumstances.

It aims to 'make transparent- how risks should be regulated and managed; for example, how account is taken of the scientific knowledge of the risks concerned, the technology available for controlling them and the resource implications of adopting the decisions'.

This final point is fundamental to a realistic approach to risk management, although the authors then go on to state that 'proper regulation of risks requires that both the individual risks and societal concerns engendered by a hazard must be addressed'. This seems to be at odds with the economic approach previously promoted and is a recipe for interminable intervention.

What follows is an interesting discourse on the nature of risk and uncertainty; both sociological and legal, although it is not entirely clear that a statutory body can psychoanalyse and interpret its role.

In summary, the document states:

'The courts have ruled that, as far as section 3 of the [Health and Safety at Work] Act is concerned, 'risk'means 'possibility of danger' rather than 'actual danger'. . . Conceptually, the HSE will therefore regard anything presenting the 'possibility of danger' as a 'hazard'. Moreover, since in any given workplace there are, inevitably, a large number of hazards which duty holders could address, insisting that duty holders formally address them all would place an excessive and largely useless burden on them. To avoid this, the HSE will not expect duty holders to take account of hazards other than those which are a reasonably foreseeable cause of harm, 'taking account of reasonably foreseeable events and behaviour.'

The document concludes with examples of incidents of 'low probability taken from everyday life' - a helpful final reminder of the remoteness of the actual risk of injury in the UK.

References Health and Safety Commission, Health & Safety Statistics (1996/97,1997/98, 1998/99 and 1999/2000) published by HSE Books. Note: the figures used for 2000/2001 are provisional Reducing Risks, Protecting People can be obtained by calling 01787 881165, price £5.The 85 pages are downloadable from www. hse. gov. uk/dst/r2p2. pdf

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