The concepts of hazard and risk are central to health and safety, but they’re often confused. Here we briefly discuss the difference.
Hazards are things (tasks, objects, situations etc.) that have the potential to cause harm. They can be found everywhere, from the chemicals we use to the equipment we work with. Some hazards are obvious. For example, an open container of a corrosive substance, but others are more subtle and not easily identifiable. These types of hazards can cause harm over time, making it important to stay vigilant and aware of potential dangers.
For instance, long-term exposure to moderately loud noise can cause hearing loss, and certain dusts can lead to asthma. By the time the harm becomes apparent, it may be too late to reverse the effects.
Risk is the likelihood that harm will occur from a hazard, and the severe the harm will be. It’s important to assess risks in the workplace to determine what precautions should be taken to prevent harm.
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) defines risk assessment as a careful examination of what could cause harm in the workplace. It’s not about creating piles of paperwork, but rather identifying sensible measures to control risks.
During a risk assessment, an organisation evaluates what it does and asks the right questions to ensure workers are safe. If existing controls are insufficient, additional measures may be needed to reduce risk to an acceptable level.
An acceptable risk is one that an organisation is willing to assume given its legal obligations, health and safety policies, and objectives.
Overall, risk assessment is a process of evaluating the risk arising from a hazard, considering existing controls, and deciding whether the risk is acceptable. By identifying and controlling hazards in the workplace, you can help prevent harm and create a safer environment for everyone.