28th July, 2021

Health And Safety: The Principles Of Prevention

The principles of prevention are a series of rules, in order, that form a best practice approach to risk management. The principles go from most effective to least effective. The most effective option is to avoid risk. When you can't avoid risk, the other principles of prevention should be applied.

Health And Safety: The Principles Of Prevention header image

In health and safety, the principles of prevention guide you through the best controls for reducing risk. And risks are present in every work environment. From slips and trips to falls from height. By reducing risk, you can create a safe workplace, have fewer accidents and fewer injuries.

The best way to avoid risk is to eliminate it. And that just so happens to be the first rule of the principles of prevention. Eliminate. For those risks that cannot be avoided each of the other principles of prevention should be applied where appropriate, to reduce the risk so far as is reasonably practicable to do so.

The aim is always to reduce risk as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP). Often a combination of the principles of prevention may be used to provide the best approach.

The principles of prevention are a best practice approach to risk management. But they are also much more than that. You will find the principles of prevention mentioned in many health and safety regulations, including the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSWR). This means they a legal requirement and fall under the health and safety responsibilities of employers.

legal paperwork

The principles of prevention are so important, they have their own section and schedule in the MHSWR. For every risk you control, you should be considering the principles of prevention.

  1. Where an employer implements any preventive and protective measures he shall do so on the basis of the principles specified in Schedule 1 to these Regulations.

Unsure what your risks are? Use the free risk calculator to create a risk list for your workplace.

The principles of prevention apply across all workplaces, and you can also find them mentioned in regulations for higher risk industries, like construction. The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (referred to as the CDM regulations) also require duty holders to use these principles to direct their approach to identify and implement the precautions necessary to control risks associated with a project.

hard hats on a construction site

The principles of prevention are outlined in Schedule 1 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, and are as follows:

(a) avoiding risks

Where possible you should avoid risks. Eliminate the risk and you get rid of the problem. Obviously, it is impossible to avoid all risks in the workplace, but those that can be avoided should be. Why take unnecessary risks?

This is the most important principle – the safest risk is the one you don’t take.

(b) evaluating the risks which cannot be avoided

Risks that cannot be avoided should be evaluated through a risk assessment to determine the safest method of work.

The evaluation is usually done through a risk assessment. You can consider how likely the risk is to cause harm, and how severe that harm will be, to calculate the risk level.

(c) combating the risks at source

Combating the risk at source is better than managing the risk through other measures like warnings or PPE. That's why this is the first principle to consider once the risk has been evaluated.

For example, it would be safer to treat or replace a slippery surface (reduce the risk at its source) rather than putting up a warning sign.

(d) adapting the work to the individual

You can adapt work by altering the design of the workplace, choosing different work equipment, or changing work or production methods. You can consult with the individuals carrying out the work consider what adaptions they might need.

  1. adapting the work to the individual, especially as regards the design of workplaces, the choice of work equipment and the choice of working and production methods, with a view, in particular, to alleviating monotonous work and work at a predetermined work-rate and to reducing their effect on health;
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 Schedule 1

(e) adapting to technical progress

We are living through the technology revolution. New technologies, products and solutions are released every week. Technologic advancement involves solutions to existing problems.

As new products and equipment are released, take advantage of any opportunities to make your working processes safer.

(f) replacing the dangerous by the non-dangerous or the less dangerous

If you cannot remove the risk entirely, you may be able to replace it with another less dangerous method to get the work done. For example, you may be able to substitute a toxic substance for one that is less hazardous (substitution), or work from height could be carried out from fixed scaffolding rather than a ladder.

Always use safer alternatives where possible.

(g) developing a coherent overall prevention policy

Your prevention policy should cover how you will reduce risks that cannot be eliminated. Remember, you don't have to pick only one control measure. You should reduce risk as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP), and this often means using several controls.

  1. developing a coherent overall prevention policy which covers technology, organisation of work, working conditions, social relationships and the influence of factors relating to the working environment;
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 Schedule 1

(h) giving collective protective measures priority

Collective protective measures should be given priority over individual protective measures. Collective measures give the greatest benefit to protecting the whole workplace, as they don't usually require individuals to take action. It is important to consider how preventative measures will work together and ensure they are compatible.

Find out the difference and look at some examples in collective protective measures vs personal protective measures.

(i) giving appropriate instructions to employees

The control measures you put in place are to keep people safe. But any control measures you introduce are of no use if your workforce does not comply with them, understand them or even know about them.

Communication is vital to ensure the successful implementation of health and safety measures to protect everybody. And that's why the last principle of prevention is to tell employees about the preventive and protective measures you provide.


Find out more about the legal health and safety responsibilities of employers to create a safer workplace. And don't forget about your duty of care.

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This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.

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