Statutory Duties

As a business owner you will have a number of statutory duties in health and safety terms that you need to understand and comply with. There are three types of duty imposed and these will affect the extent to which you must do something to comply – Absolute, Practicable and Reasonably Practicable.

Absolute Duty

This is known as strict liability because there are situations when the risk is so high that without action being taken, people will get injured. Health and Safety law recognises absolute duties and place a statutory duty on a business owner to take action to control the hazard. This is indicated by the words “must” and “shall” to show there is no ambiguity and have to be addressed. An example of this is from the Management of Health and Safety at Work Act and I quote “every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks..”


Some regulations state that steps must be taken “in so far as is practicable”. This means it does not absolutely have to be complied with but should be seriously considered if physically possible. To decide if the requirement can be achieved, the business owner would need to consider current technology, feasibility, cost and ability for the business to implement a solution.

Examples from the Management Act are “so far as is practicable, every tank, pit or structure, where there is a risk of a person falling into a dangerous substance shall be suitably covered… ” or “… where practicable..the provision of fixed guards enclosing every dangerous part of work equipment..” Essentially this means that if it is possible to install a fence or a guard it should be installed.

Reasonably Practicable

The words “so far as reasonably practicable” qualifies almost all the general duties imposed on a business owner by all Health and Safety legislation. In real terms this means that if taking action will take more time, money and inconvenience to implement than any likely risk reduction, the steps need not be taken. However, showing that you did not take any action because it was too costly or not viable is usually difficult to prove and should not be considered as a solid defence following a serious accident. After an accident it is difficult for a business owner to prove they had done everything that was reasonably practicable because, in most situations, safety systems and procedures had failed and resulted in an accident.

Overall it is for you as a business owner to look at the risks in your operation and consider ways to reduce them. In most cases people will implement what is quick and easy to do so. More costly and difficult measures do need to be considered and not neglected or forgotten, but reviewed from time to time to see if the risk are still the same or a solution is now more viable due to lower costs or better technology.

Nigel J Welford is a qualified Health & Safety professional and believes in making health and safety as simple as possible whilst still being effective and meeting all the regulations. For his free report “The Secret To How Health & Safety Can Improve Your Business And Profits: 7 Everyday Pitfalls To Avoid” from healthandsafetyintheworkplace