Hazard and Risk: Know the Difference

Open your health and safety manual and two words that will appear frequently
will be "hazard” and "risk”. They are often used interchangeably; however they
each mean something very different. Is a wet floor in a workplace a hazard or a
risk? Knowing what each of these terms means, and using them properly can help
you better address workplace health and safety issues.

There are many definitions for hazard but the most common when talking about
workplace health and safety is that a hazard is any source of potential damage,
harm or adverse health effects on something or someone. Some examples are: a
wet floor, direct exposure to the sun, or exposure to toxic chemicals.

Workplace hazards can come from a wide range of sources, such as a substance,
product, process, or practice that can cause harm or an adverse health effect
to a person or property. Examples include, a sharp knife, the process of
welding, or bullying. These are considered hazards because they can cause harm.
Knives cause cuts, welding fumes can cause metal fume fever, and bullying can
have the effect of anxiety, fear and depression on the victim.

Practices or conditions that could release uncontrolled energy are also
considered workplace hazards. For example, an object that could fall from a
height is considered a hazard. When the object falls, it gains momentum from
gravity and it could seriously harm whatever or whomever the object lands on.
The potential entanglement of hair or clothing in rotating equipment caused by
kinetic energy is another example of this type of hazard.

It can help to think of hazards in groups. Categories for classifying hazards
- biological - bacteria, viruses, insects, plants, birds, animals, and humans, etc.
- chemical - depends on the physical, chemical and toxic properties of the chemical
- ergonomic - repetitive movements, improper set up of workstation, etc.
- physical - radiation, magnetic fields, pressure extremes (high pressure or vacuum), noise, etc.
- psychosocial - stress, violence, etc.
- safety - slipping/tripping hazards, inappropriate machine guarding, equipment malfunctions or breakdowns

Risk is the chance or probability that a person will be harmed, or experience
an adverse health effect, if exposed to a hazard. For example there is a risk
of slipping on the wet floor and breaking a bone, or developing skin cancer
from long-term exposure to the sun. It may also apply to situations with
property or equipment loss, or harmful effects on the environment.

It's important to note that risk is not the same for everyone and there are
many factors that influence the degree of risk. These factors include how much
a person is exposed to a hazard (such as how many times a day a person walks
across a wet floor or the level of exposure to hazardous products a worker
experiences). The level of risk also depends on both the nature of the hazard
and the nature of the exposure. For example, a product with a low hazard can
pose a high risk if exposure is high. A product with a high hazard can
sometimes pose less risk if exposure is low. However, the overall goal is to
minimize exposure to hazards, and thereby minimize the risk.

Further Information

AplusA-online.de - Source: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety