What’s the difference between a hazard and a risk?
Often confused or thought to be the same thing – there is a difference between the two.
Generally, when talking about health and safety, a Hazard is something with potential to cause harm, injury or illness. We often cite things in the workplace that have potential, such as fire, slips and trips, electricity, equipment and tools, hazardous substances, manual handling and working from height to name but a few. However, just because something has potential, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will cause harm, that depends on many factors.
The Risk refers to the likelihood or chances of harm being caused by the hazard, so for example we talk about things or situations being high risk, low risk and everything in between. In other words how likely would it be that something could happen.
When we talk about risk we also throw a couple of other factors into the equation such as, how severe would the harm be? It could be something trivial like a paper cut or a bruise or more severe such as losing a limb, life changing injuries or even being killed! As you can imagine, there are all sorts of levels of severity when it comes to harm, injury or illness.
Also it is worth noting the fact that we tend to concentrate quite often on short term risks i.e. from accidents and incidents but don’t always consider long term health effects for example from exposure to hazardous substances or long term spinal damage from poor manual handling technique or poor ergonomics in the office environment.
Another factor to throw into the equation when considering risk, is to ask how many people would be harmed, perhaps one person or perhaps many and who would these people be? Could they be general staff and customers or could they be persons who would be more vulnerable to be being harmed such as persons with low immunity to infection, persons with learning difficulties, persons working on their own or perhaps young persons with less life experience and more likely to put themselves at risk than persons with more life experience, greater skills and knowledge.
A risk assessment is simply about identifying all relevant hazards in your workplace which have the potential to do harm then, as part of the same exercise you should consider what level of risk these hazards present. Thinking about who might be harmed, how many might be harmed and the severity of harm caused.
Once you’ve put this all together you can think which control measures can be implemented that will either remove the hazard or reduce the risk to a level which is reasonably practicable.