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What is the difference between a hazard and a risk?

Woman crossing the road

Risk Assessments are an essential part of workplace safety and can make a massive difference in preventing workplace accidents. As part of managing health and safety, every employer must, by law, assess the health and safety risks of their work and put a plan in place to control them. Everyone has the right to be protected from harm, especially if it could have been avoided.

It’s important that employers are clear on what a hazard is and what a risk is, especially as the two words are often (incorrectly) used interchangeably!

What is a hazard and what is a risk?

hazard is anything that could cause harm.

And, risk, is a combination of two things – the chance that the hazard will cause harm and how serious that harm could be.

What does this mean?

Risk is usually described as being ‘high’, ‘medium’ or ‘low’. For example, think about crossing a road - the cars and other traffic are the main hazards; and your mental calculation of the risk is a combination of how likely it is that you’ll be hit by a vehicle, along with how seriously you might be injured. And, there are things that could affect the likelihood and there are things that could affect the severity.

In our example, the speed of the traffic, your own speed and fitness, the weather conditions, the road surface and the time of day could all affect the likelihood of being hit and the size and speed of the vehicle which could hit you will affect the severity of the injury.

Risk Assessment Training

Our IOSH Approved Risk Assessment Training provides learners will a simple 5 step process to perform risk assessments, learners will know when and when not to perform risk assessments, the differences between hazards & risks, plus access to our Free Risk Assessment Tool. At the end of this course, learners will understand the benefits of risk assessments and comply with basic legislation. 

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