Hazards and Risks – What’s the Difference?

Hazards and Risks – What’s the Difference?

04th June 2019

In our article last week on hazards in the workplace, we pointed out that the Oxford Dictionary defines a hazard as “A potential source of danger”, with the emphasis here on the word “potential” and went on to way that this week we would be taking a look at the difference between a hazard and a risk.

Basically, it goes as follows:

  • A hazard is something with the potential to cause harm
  • A risk is the chance that somebody could be harmed by the hazard

It’s important to make a distinction between hazard and risk because in cases where you can eliminate hazards, you can remove the risk.  In circumstances where hazards cannot be removed, they must be controlled in order to reduce the risks.  The hazards may remain high, but adequate control measures and careful management can result in the risk being low.

A risk is defined as a “chance that somebody could be harmed by a hazard”, and this chance is assessed based on how severe the harm is and the likelihood of the harm occurring.  A risk may be high or low, depending on these two factors.  The risk level is actually a calculation of likelihood and severity and you may have seen a risk matrix that looks like this:

 

SLIGHT

MODERATE

EXTREME

LOW

Very Low Risk

Low Risk

Medium Risk

MEDIUM

Low Risk

Medium Risk

High Risk

HIGH

Medium Risk

High Risk

Intolerable Risk

 

 

The likelihood of harm occurring from a hazard ranges from very unlikely to highly likely, whilst the severity of harm may range from minor, short-term harm to major, life-changing injuries or even death.

A hazard may generate a variety of risks if it has the potential to cause harm in a number of different ways.  A risk may be controlled by implementing management procedures to reduce its severity.  A combination of control measures may significantly reduce the risk level and ensure that a hazard with the potential to cause harm (the hazard) is not actually able to do so or the harm itself is minimised (the risk). 

A task may even be classified as high risk when it is actually high hazard.  Just because an activity involves high hazard, it does not necessarily mean that it is high risk.  Activities may have a range of hazards, but the level of risk may be reduced by good management and stringent controls.  The whole purpose of doing a risk assessment is to control the risks so that work can be undertaken in a safe manner. 

In circumstances where hazards cannot be eliminated, they can be controlled, reducing the risks involved.  The hazards will continue to be high, but the control measures taken, combined with careful management could mean that the risk remains low.