To ask any safety professional to define a ‘hazard’ and a ‘risk’ is akin to asking a seasoned driver to differentiate between the brake and gas pedals. Duh! Cue knowing chuckles and shaking of head. Rather ask said safety professional to distinguish between strategic risk and speculative risk – at least that’s a tad trickier. There is a universal understanding in safety of what are a hazard anda risk, right? Not so fast.
OSHA defines a ‘hazard’ hence: “Any facility, location, equipment, tool, job, task, or action that presents a potential of serious injury or death to any employee.” – okay, so far, so good. Interestingly, OSHA only defines ‘risk’ within the context of medical conditions or exposure thereto and it therefore only centers on the health impact to employees. However, a generally acceptable definition for risk is usually similar to this: ‘It is the chance or likelihood of a hazard causing harm or damage to a person or to property or to the environment’.
It is contended here that the above, variations of which are often cited, is a poor definition of risk. Why the emphasis on “chance or likelihood”? What of the potential severity of said risk occurring, not to mention the potential exposure (e.g. the number of workers within the entire worker population who may be most exposed to a given risk)? Risk can be far more simply defined as the actual harm that may occur as a result of a given hazard or set of hazards.