Health & Safety: what’s the difference between “hazard” and “risk”?

General / 25 March 2016
Health & Safety: what’s the difference between “hazard” and “risk”?

The new Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (“Act”) has been in place for several months now, and most businesses are getting to grips with the new terminology and concepts, including the two key concepts of hazard and risk explored in this article.

The definition of “hazard” is broad – encompassing anything that could cause harm, in terms of death, injury or illness to a person.  It includes a person’s behaviour which has the potential to cause harm, “whether or not that behaviour results from physical or mental fatigue, drugs, alcohol, traumatic shock, or another temporary condition that affects a person’s behaviour”.  The definition of risk is also broad, and risks to both physical and mental health must be managed.

Example: If a ladder is a hazard, a couple of the risks are the ladder falling onto a person, tripping over the ladder, falling from the ladder.

Once work related hazards are identified, the risk of harm should be assessed using a risk matrix, to measure the likelihood of the harm occurring and the how serious the harm could be and rate the risk accordingly.  If you cannot eliminate the risk, then, the risk must be managed by applying the following controls, in order, to take the safest approach as reasonably practicable in the circumstances:

Substitution: substitute the hazard giving rise to the risk with something that gives rise to a lesser risk.  E.g. instead of using an acid based cleaning solution, use an organic product with no harm side effects.  Practically, the result of this form of substitution is elimination of risk.
Isolation: isolate the hazard, to prevent anyone coming into contact with it.  “Isolation” is any form of barrier between a person and a hazard.  E.g. Many carparks now have a metal barrier for pedestrian walkways, isolating vehicle hazards and preventing risk of harm by contact between cars and shoppers.
Engineering controls:  these are mechanical or structural controls such as sound proofing, guards or interlocks.  E.g. where working with compressed air with a compressor in the same building as people work, engineering controls like sound proofing could minimise the risks created by the compressor’s noise.
Administrative controls – training and procedures: If none of the above controls can be implemented, or can’t be implemented straight away, administrative controls should apply.  E.g. retraining, supervision, and rotation of workers performing repetitive tasks, to minimise hazard associated risks.
Personal protective equipment (PPE): The last control option is PPE.  The rationale for this being a final resort is that PPE’s reliability to prevent harm is dependent entirely on a person doing the right thing every single time, yet mistakes are inevitable. E.g in a job that discharges chemicals to the atmosphere, for example, spray painting or asbestos removal, forgetting to change a respirator (PPE) filter could be fatal.  An engineering control such as a filtered extraction system would remove reliance on PPE for safety.
Your health and safety management plan should include a process to identify hazards and associated risks, and manage these.  For help with ensuring your plan does this effectively, we recommend seeking advice.  We can assist with plan auditing, gaps analysis and software recommendations – contact us for help.

Disclaimer: We remind you that while this article provides commentary on employment law and health and safety topics, it should not be used as a substitute for legal or professional advice for specific situations. Please seek guidance from your lawyer for any questions specific to your workplace.

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