Have you ever wondered about the difference between a hazard and a risk? Sure you have - that’s why you're here! While these terms are often used interchangeably, they do in fact have distinct meanings, especially in the context of safety management. In this blog post, we will explore the definitions of hazard and risk, and how they relate to effective safety management. I will also discuss the importance of hazard recognition and risk assessment, and provide resources for managing risks at an organisational level.
A hazard is any potential source of harm or adverse health effect on individuals. This can include things like exposed electrical wiring, dangerous chemicals, or even poor ergonomics related to workplace design. Identifying hazards is the first step in managing risks.
Risk is the probability and potential severity of a hazard causing harm. It is an assessment that takes into account the likelihood and potential impact of a hazard. Risk management involves identifying and assessing risks, and developing strategies to mitigate them based on priority.
While hazards represent potential sources of harm, the idea of risk incorporates the probability of that harm occurring. Understanding this distinction is useful in safety management, as it ensures clear thinking and communications around the strategies used to mitigate potential dangers.
Hazard recognition is a crucial aspect of safety management, as it lays the foundation for effective risk assessment and mitigation. However, it is important to acknowledge that human cognitive biases and mood states can impact our ability to accurately identify potential hazards.
Cognitive biases are like shortcuts our brains take when thinking. Sometimes, these shortcuts can lead us to make mistakes, especially in tricky or unclear situations. Take confirmation bias, for instance. This happens when we only pay attention to things that support what we already believe and ignore anything that doesn't. It's like having blind spots that keep us from seeing the full picture, particularly when it comes to risks or problems that don't match our existing ideas.
Mood states can also affect hazard recognition. Negative emotions such as anxiety or stress can impair attention and perception, leading to decreased vigilance and increased susceptibility to distractions. On the other hand, positive emotions such as happiness or excitement can lead to overconfidence and complacency, which can result in overlooking potential hazards.
Given the limitations in the consistent reliability of human cognition, it is important to rely on formalised systems to reduce oversights and errors in judgement. These systems provide a structured approach to hazard identification and assessment. For example, the use of checklists or standardised procedures can help ensure that all potential hazards are considered, regardless of individual biases or emotional states.
Once hazards are identified, the next crucial step is to assess and manage the associated risks. This involves analysing potential impacts and developing strategies to mitigate them. To make this process more tangible, let's consider risk as a combination of severity and probability.
Imagine a hazard like an explosive gas leak that could potentially kill the 100 regular occupants of a building. If we estimate the probability of this occurring in a year as Rare and the potential severity as Catastrophic, this risk is rated Medium (11) against our default Risk Matrix. A basic risk control analysis to be instigated is required to manage this hazard.
Now, consider a less severe hazard like a 1-story fall for a single maintenance worker, with an Unlikely chance of occurring in a year, and a Moderate severity if it occurs. This risk would also be rated as Medium (8) against our Risk Matrix, necessitating basic risk control analysis.
In these examples, the gas leak unsurprisingly presents a higher risk when considering the severity and number of people affected, despite its lower probability. However, the fall hazard, with its higher likelihood, also presents a significant risk not too far below the first. This illustrates why considering both severity and probability is crucial in risk assessment. Remember, it's about distributing resources according to priorities, not the impossible task of eliminating all risk.
Intuitive guesses about risk can be misleading, particularly for hazards with low probabilities but high consequences, such as explosions, and when there are sparse internal examples of actual incidents.
If we were to zoom out to the scale of a large city, where numerous organisations face various risks, the probabilities of different incidents add up. Over time, unlikely events become almost certain somewhere at the scale of a city, or country.
Why bother with this thought experiment? The wider perspective helps us grasp why it's essential for even small organisations to do their part in adopting a systematic approach to risk assessment. By basing decisions on calculated risk values rather than intuition, organisations can more accurately prioritise their safety efforts and resources even when some risks seem intangible at the scale of operation.
A Corporate Risk Register is used to identify, assess, and manage potential risks that could impact their objectives and operations, which may not always be derived from a specific hazard. The items included in a Corporate Risk Register can vary depending on the nature of the business, industry, and specific circumstances. Maintaining a corporate risk register is an essential practice for managing risks at an organisational level, especially as complexity increases. It provides a systematic approach for documenting, assessing, and addressing risks, ensuring comprehensive risk management across the organisation.
Risks such as cybersecurity breaches, manufacturing compliance standards, negative social media reviews, supply chain disruptions, financial loss due to fraudulent activity, telecommunications failure, key personnel turnover, and economic downturn, would all be assessed and managed through a Corporate Risk Register.
Clarifying our thoughts around the difference between hazard and risk is valuable for a structured and streamlined approach to a safety management strategy that reduces error.
The tools developed by myosh for over 20 years, including the Risk Assessment Module, Risk & Hazard Management Module, Job Hazard Analysis Module, Corporate Risk Register Module, and Critical Control Management are designed to systematise and simplify an organisation’s strategy for dealing with workplace safety.
The software suite offered by myosh is an example of a comprehensive safety management system that captures real data at every level of an organisation, and involves every personnel member, not just management staff. A host of resources on how these tools work are also navigable from our Resources overview page.