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Is the decision proportionate to the level of risk - does it make sense?

How to distinguish between the real risks and trivia

Health and safety at work law is about reducing death, serious injury and ill health in workplaces. It is about taking the necessary action to reduce significant risks arising from work - it is not about banning activities. It is important to be clear about what is a legal requirement.

Council services deliver benefit to the local community and these services may sometimes involve a degree of risk. Decisions about how a local service is delivered or what steps are necessary to enable a local event to go ahead should not lose sight of the benefits that an activity, event or service actually provides. Don’t let trivia get in the way of positive outcomes.

If you feel uncomfortable with a decision to stop or limit an activity, or see that it will have undesirable or unintended consequences, you can check whether the decision or the chosen precautions are proportionate by considering the actual risks.

Understanding the risks

Understanding what is the actual risk involves considering the likelihood and consequences of something going wrong. This means thinking about:

The following real scenarios will help you reflect on these questions and evaluate levels of risk.

Beware of dogs

A local council stopped dog training classes at its community halls on the grounds of health and safety

What is the adverse incident of concern?

The Council was concerned that dogs would foul the hall and cause health problems for workers and visitors, particularly where owners do not clear up after them.

What level of injury is anticipated and how likely is it to arise?

There is a small possibility of infection arising from dogs fouling in the hall. There could also be individual instances of allergic response but this is a risk faced in the everyday environment. The likelihood of ill-health occurring is very low.

How significant are the health and safety risks?

Overall the risks are trivial.

What does sensible, proportionate risk control look like?

The risks can be managed by giving clear instructions to the dog owners who attend and ensure they clean up after their dogs.

Hanging basket case

A local council refuses permission for hanging basket displays, blaming costly engineering survey and inspections.

What is the adverse incident of concern?

Failure of fixings could cause hanging baskets to fall into the street and hit passers-by.

What level of injury is anticipated and how likely is it to arise?

Minor injuries may arise if a basket falls onto someone. A basket would fall only if completely inappropriate fixings are used. The risk of a falling basket hitting a passer-by and causing serious injury is low.

How significant are the health and safety risks?

Overall the risks are low.

What does sensible, proportionate risk control look like?

For conventional hanging baskets of modest size and other simple lightweight floral decorations, all that is needed is the selection of suitable anchor points and a simple visual check to confirm suitability of fixings prior to installation. The key thing is to keep a sense of proportion and not to apply risk control measures in an overly cautious way.

Good clean fun – using dirt bikes at a special school

An opportunity arises for a school to offer off-road motorbike sessions for pupils. The staff in charge think the risks are too high and refuse to sanction the activity, citing health and safety as the reason. Could they in fact allow the activity to go ahead?

What is the adverse incident of concern?

Some accidents involving falls from the bikes are anticipated.

What level of injury is anticipated and how likely is it to arise?

Most injuries will entail bruises and scrapes. Although rare, there is a possibility of more serious injury resulting from excessive speed for the conditions and collision with bikes or objects.

How significant are the health and safety risks?

The risks are real but they can be managed.

What does sensible, proportionate risk control look like?

Robust precautions are needed to control the significant risks, including: careful selection of equipment and protective clothing; using competent organisers with experience of running similar events; and careful attention to layout of the course. It is vital to pay attention to supervision, training and instruction.

Updated: 2014-04-03