Differences: Hazards, Risks, Risk Assessments

What are Hazards?

Anything that may cause harm, such as chemicals, electricity, working from ladders etc.

Some hazards are easy to identify (an open container of a corrosive substance), others are not easily identifiable.

This can be because the harm that some hazards cause is not immediate, but occurs instead over a long period of time. By the time the harm is apparent, it may be too late to reverse the effects. An example is deafness caused by long exposure to only moderately loud noise, or exposure to certain dusts that could cause asthma.

A common way to categorise hazards:

  • mechanical
  • physical
  • chemical
  • environmental
  • biological
  • organisational

What is ‘Risk’?

The chance, that somebody could be harmed by a hazard, together with an indication of how serious the harm could be.

What is a ‘Risk Assessment’?

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has defined risk assessment as…

“simply a careful examination of what, in the workplace, could cause harm to people, so that a decision can be made as to whether the precautions taken are satisfactory or whether more should be done to prevent harm”.

A risk assessment is not about creating huge amounts of paperwork, but rather about identifying sensible measures to control the risks in the workplace.

It looks at what an organisation does and asks the right questions to establish whether workers will be safe and to decide on what else it needs to do to make workers safe if it’s not satisfied with existing controls.

An acceptable risk is a risk that has been reduced to a level that the organisation is willing to assume with respect to its legal obligation, its health and safety policy and its health and safety objectives.

Risk assessment is a process of evaluating the risk arising from a hazard, considering the adequacy of any existing controls, and deciding whether the risk is acceptable.