ALARP is an acronym for “as low as reasonably practicable.” It is similar to SFAIRP, “so far as is reasonably practicable.” Both of these involve calculating a risk against the money, time, and effort required to control the risk. Essentially, ALARP describes the level to which risks may be expected to be controlled within the workplace. It is often used in the management and regulation of systems that involve safety.

The term “reasonably practicable” is at the heart of the British health and safety system. To determine ALARP, a calculation is completed which considers the risk versus the sacrifice involved in averting the risk (whether in money, time, or trouble). If it’s shown that there’s a large disproportion, then a decision may be made. It can go either way: if the risk overweighs the sacrifice, then steps must be taken to control or avert the risk. If the sacrifice overweighs the risk, then it is not worth it to take action.

Rather than balancing the costs and benefits of risk-controlling measures, this system simply helps people reach the conclusion as to whether those measures should be adopted in the first place. The decision is weighed heavily in favor of health and safety. For example:

  • Spending $1 million to prevent a handful of staff from suffering bruised knees is disproportionate, and is not reasonably practicable.
  • Spending $1 million to prevent a major explosion that may kill hundreds of people is proportionate, and is reasonably practicable.

Following the “reasonably practicable” ideal enables workplaces to set goals rather than simply enforce rules. This provides flexibility, however it can be challenging because it requires workers to exercise their own judgement. Most of the time, workers can refer to existing best practices that have been established in order to determine what is ALARP. For complex situations or high hazards, more complicated decision-making techniques can be used, such as calculating a cost-benefit analysis. 

Keep in mind the difference between a hazard and a risk:

  • A hazard is an object, substance, or activity that may cause adverse effects, such as a loud noise that may lead to hearing loss or an asbestos-ridden environment, which causes cancer.
  • A risk is the likelihood that a hazard will actually cause its adverse effects. This is expressed as frequencies (“100 cases per year”), qualitative ways (“significant”), or probabilities (“one in a thousand”).

The hazard is loud noise; the risk is the significant likelihood of loud noise causing hearing loss.

In reality, decisions about risk and ALARP are very complex. Many factors come into play, such as remote changes of one-off events, daily supervision time, and ongoing costs. This guide offers expert opinion on the ALARP decision-making process. A lot of judgement is involved and there is no simple formula. However, ALARP is a handy term that helps many people handle current and potential risks in the workplace.

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