Practicable

I am in two minds. When I see the words: “in so far as practicable” I can think; great, a degree of flexibility. On another occasions when I see the self-same words I think; that’s too vague and indistinct. It can easily circumvent more strict language.

Practicable is a perfectly useful word. The idea that it’s practical to do something and likely to succeed can be a matter of reasoned judgement. However, there lies the crux of the problem. It’s the subjective of that judgement, as to what’s practical and will it succeed, that becomes the possible difficulty.

If there’s a clause in a group’s constitution or working arrangements that says: “in so far as practicable” then it can become open season for someone to avoid a commitment or go their own way. That can be to shoot a big hole in a set of agreed expectations.

A lot depends on where the burden of proof sits. In other words, I may assert that something is not practicable but is it then for someone else to prove me wrong? Or do I have to provide the necessary proof?

There are elements of degree here too. If the assumption is that a judgement can be a snap judgement that’s one thing. However, there may be an assumption that a judgment is based on a rigorous level of analysis and reasoning.

The term “in so far as practicable” is most useful when applied thoughtfully and with honest intent. That the person applying this caveat would work hard to undertake whatever obligation was written and only as a fall back, having been unable to meet an obligation, revert to the use of these words.

Context and circumstances weigh heavily on what is practicable. An easy task on a sunny day can be a nightmare in a thunderstorm. Some legal clauses go as far as “insofar as is reasonably practicable in the circumstances”.

I guess I’m coming around to the wish that the “ALARP” concept (short for “as low as reasonably practicable”) would be sparingly used. ALARP weighs risk mitigation, elimination or reduction against time, trouble, and money. That’s a balancing act where there’s no perfect answer.

ALARP is a basic concept in health and safety law, but it hasn’t caught on in aviation or at least safety of flight. It’s not that aviation is blind to the fact that flight safety can be a priority, but it will never receive infinite time, trouble, and money.

It’s more that with flight there’s always a choice. It’s a “go – no go” choice. If adequate risk mitigation, elimination or reduction is not available the reasonable choice is to stay on the ground.

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