Criteria for Reasonably Practicable, and Reasonably Possible - 920-1-IPG-055

Effective Date: March 2009

1. Issue

Develop the criteria for a consistent interpretation of the terms "reasonably practicable" and "reasonably possible" used in various provisions of the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (COHSR).

2. Background

Numerous provisions of the COHSR stipulate that the employer must comply with specific provisions, but only to the extent that compliance is "reasonably practicable".

In addition, Part XIX of the COHSR requires the employer to eliminate or reduce ergonomic-related hazards as much as is "reasonable possible".

In order for Health and Safety Officers (HSOs) to enforce these COHSR provisions consistently, criteria must be established to evaluate these two terms.

3. Questions


Do the terms "reasonably practicable" and "reasonably possible" have the same meaning under the COHSR.


What criteria must a HSO consider to determine if it is "reasonably practicable" or "reasonably possible" for an employer to comply with certain specific provisions of the COHSR?

4. Conclusion


The terms "reasonably practicable" and "reasonably possible" are frequently used interchangeably in a variety of authoritative sources. Therefore for the purposes of the COHSR, the two terms are considered to have the same meaning.

Note: For simplicity, only the term "reasonably practicable" will be used for the remainder of this IPG, but it shall be understood to also mean "reasonably possible".


The criteria a HSO must consider when determining if compliance with a specific COHSR is "reasonably practicable" include both the technical and economical aspects of compliance:

  1. The technical aspect - is it physically possible to comply, and would compliance introduce other hazards or areas of non-compliance, such as nullifying any required Canadian Standards Association (CSA), Underwriters' Laboratories of Canada (ULC) or similar agency approval?
  2. The economical aspect - would the cost to comply significantly outweigh the benefits. This criterion in turn requires an assessment of the benefits of compliance. To assess the benefits, the following additional factors must be considered:
    1. how severe is the hazard, and what is the likelihood (risk) of an employee being exposed to the hazard. The greater the hazard and risk, the more effort must be put into complying with the specified requirements;
    2. would compliance reduce the hazard or risk enough to make a noticeable improvement, (i.e., would the use of a permanent, rather than temporary, structure provide significantly greater protection to the employee);
    3. how long would the improvements remain in effect, (i.e. is the equipment or building scheduled to be replaced soon, or is the work place a temporary location).


In evaluating the above criteria, the HSO shall:

  1. be flexible and use his/her discretion - each situation is unique and there are few set rules that can be applied to each and every one;
  2. consider what alternative measures have been taken to protect employees from the hazard, and the effectiveness of these measures;
  3. determine if there are any precedent measures taken by other employers, or precedent decisions made by other federal or provincial safety officers in similar situations;
  4. if the determination is not obvious, ask the employer to provide additional information and consider the degree of technical sophistication used by the employer to conclude that compliance is not "reasonably practicable";
  5. depending upon the nature and the complexity of the issue, consult with your Technical Advisor and if necessary, NHQ - Technical Services Unit to obtain expert technical advice.


addition, if necessary, the HSO shall advise the employer that:

  1. to comply with sections 7.6 or 12.10 (1.1) of the COHSR, the employer must submit a written report to the regional health and safety officer setting out the reasons why it is not "reasonably practicable" to reduce noise exposure levels, or provide a fall-protection system, and that the employer must also provide a copy of this report to the work place health and safety committee or representative;
  2. to comply with subsections 2.2 (3) and 14.51 (4) of the COHSR, the employer must inform the work place health and safety committee or representative that it is not "reasonably practicable" to renovate an existing building to comply with the National Building Code of Canada, or modify motorized material handling equipment to comply with Part XIV of the COHSR.

In summary "reasonably practicable" imposes a less stringent standard than "practicable". There are measures which are "practicable", but not "reasonably practicable", to take to protect the health and safety of employees. The employer must weigh the effort, time, and cost of eliminating the hazards and the probability of injury and illnesses. Since the employer's first duty under the Regulations is to comply with the initial requirement of the Regulations, the effort, time and cost must significantly outweigh the benefit of the initial requirement.

P. Alwyn Child
Acting Director General
Program Development and Guidance Directorate
HRSDC-Labour Program

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