The Risk Management Tool Box Blog

Four Myths about ALARP

Graham Marshall - Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Following up on my post yesterday, I'm including some useful information from the UK HSE about common myths associated with the ALARP principle, and also why these myths are mistaken.

Myth 1 - Ensuring that risks are reduced to ALARP means that standards of HSE performance have to continually rise.

Although it is a good philosophy to seek to continually improve performance in HSE standards,  improvements should always be made in a responsible manner.  It is widely recognized that the best risk controls available are not necessarily reasonably practicable to implement. It is only if the cost of implementing the best methods of control is not grossly disproportionate to the reduction in risk they achieve that their implementation should be considered.

Deciding whether something is safe enough at the ALARP level is a different exercise from seeking a continual improvement in HSE standards. But as technology develops and new and better methods of risk control become available, these should be implemented when possible.

All work places should review new methods of controls that become available from time-to-time and consider how they can implement the new controls.  For a variety of reasons, however, it may not be reasonably practicable to upgrade older plant and equipment to the most modern standards.

The decision about what is ALARP is also affected by changes in knowledge about the magnitude of the risk presented by a given hazard.  If there is strong evidence to show that a hazard presents significantly greater levels of risk than previously thought, then stronger controls to tackle the new situation may be required to reduce the risk to ALARP.  If the new evidence indicates that a specific hazard presents significantly lower risk than previously thought, however, then a relaxation in control may actually be warranted.

Myth 2 - If a few organizations have adopted a high standard of risk control, that standard sets the ALARP risk level for the whole industrial sector.

Some organizations implement risk controls that are more stringent than simple standards of good practice.   It does not follow that these risk control standards are reasonably practicable in all cases, just because a few organizations have adopted them.

Myth 3 - Ensuring that risk is reduced to the ALARP level means adopting all possible risk controls.

The “belt and braces” approach  to risk reduction in which every possible control is touted is not justifiable.  Remember that ALARP means that a barrier can be required only if its introduction does not involve grossly disproportionate cost, effort or resources.  ALARP does not mean that every HSE control that could possibly be implemented to reduce risk should be implemented. There is often more than one way of reducing risk to ALARP, so start with the easiest and most convenient controls.

Myth 4 - Ensuring that risk is reduced to the ALARP level means that there will be no accidents or ill-health.

ALARP does not represent zero risk.  In any activity involving people, there is never no risk and the risk arising from a hazard may be realized sometimes even though the risk is ALARP.

All organizations should, however, strive to reduce and maintain the risk within their business at the ALARP level.   Senior Management should never be complacent but the only way that the risk within any business activity can be entirely eliminated is if the activity is abandoned altogether. This will often make no business sense at all!

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