slips and trips

The Difference Between Hazard & Risk 

Posted By Kerry Budworth on 2016-07-06 17:47

Risk Management at Work

The terms Hazard and Risk are often used interchangeably but they are not the same thing . This is important in the context of risk management in the workplace. So we decide to take a quick look at the terms and what they mean in this context. When we refer to hazards in occupational safety and health the most commonly used definition is ‘A Hazard is a potential source of harm or adverse health effect on a person or persons’.

In the picture above, there is a spill of water on the floor, that water presents a slipping hazard to persons passing through it. There is a risk of slips and falls from the hazard of the water. If access to that area was prevented by a physical barrier then the hazard would remain though the risk would be minimised (a very simple risk management strategy).

What is Risk?

When we refer to risk in relation to occupational safety and health, what we are talking about is the likely risk that a person or persons could be harmed if exposed to a hazard.  Risk management is not necessarily about taking the hazard away, in some cases that is impossible. However, it should be nearly always impossible to reduce the risk of the hazard causing damage. 

Categorising Risk

We also need to categorise the risk in reference to the level of harm that any hazard could cause. We also need to think about the exposure of people to the hazard and the repetition of that exposure. For instance, exposure to airborne asbestos fibres is categorised as high risk, because a single exposure may cause potentially fatal lung disease. However,  working in a general office undertaking administrative duties is a low risk activity based on limited exposure to hazards. 

Managing Risk With Control Measures

Risks can be managed with control measures once hazards and the risk of exposure have been identified. Control measures include any actions that can be taken to reduce the potential of exposure to the hazard. They can also be any action that completely removes the hazard or reduces the likelihood of the risk of the exposure to that hazard.

For instance, a machine on your manufacturing floor has exposed moving parts, these parts are a hazard that cause the risk of injury to workers. The risk is categorised as high because many workers work near to or pass by the machine. It is also categorised as high because the potential damage caused by contact with these exposed moving parts is substantial. A very simple control measure would be to provide engineered guarding of the moving parts which eliminates the potential for contact.

The Hierarchary of Control Measures

There is a clear hierarchary of control measures that we need to work through. The first one is to completely eliminate the hazard, eliminating the hazard eliminates any risk of exposure. Of course, this is not always acheivable for many reasons. If we can't eliminate the hazard, then we move onto the next step.

Substitution of The Hazard

The next step is to assess whether we can substitute the hazard with something else that provides a lesser risk of harm. Substituting the hazard may not remove all of the risks associated with a process but the overall effect is to lessen the chance of ill effects or harm. 

Isolating The Hazard

If you can't eliminate or substitute, the next step is to isolate the hazard. Isolating the hazard is achieved by restricting access to the hazard be that plant and equipment or substances.  In the simple example of the water we used earlier, we isolated the water hazard with barriers.

Use Engineering Controls

Engineering controls are used to re-design a process or perhaps a machine to place a barrier between the person and the hazard. They can also be used to remove the hazard from the proximity of the person. For instance, putting guards on machines to reduce risk or moving the operator to a remote position or location from the hazard or process. 

Use Administrative Controls

Administrative controls are simply the adoption of standard operating procedures or safe work practices. Providing appropriate training, instruction or information to reduce the potential for harm is also an administrative control. 

Use PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)

The very last line of defence is always Personal protective equipment (PPE). This includes whatever equipment that will reduce the risk of a hazard including gloves, glasses, earmuffs, aprons, safety footwear, respirators and dust masks. It is important that you never rely solely on PPE because it tends to be a weak measure. For instance, wearing earmuffs may help reduce exposure to noise only if they are worn correctly, which they are most often not. In this case, isolating or dampening the noise source and supplying custom hearing protection is a better way to reduce the risk from the noise hazard.  

If you have any questions about health and safety requirements for your business, occupational health screening and when you need it or any other matter we can help with, call us on 01455 234 600 or contact us online now.