We have created some podcasts and learning videos to help you with key Health, Safety & Environmental concepts. They aim to give you a basic understanding of core health and safety practices. In this post, we address the difference between hazard and risk.
When we’re dealing about risk of any kind in the workplace, we need to first understand the hazards that exist in our surrounding environment.
In many countries, including the UK, there is a legal obligation in place for employer’s to ensure the health and safety of their employees. The Health and Safety at Work Act (HASWA) underpins the requirements here in the UK.
The difference between hazard and risk is very often confused. It is important to understand the relationship between the two terms and how they should be applied. Once you’ve grasped the concepts of hazard and risk, make sure to check out our beginner’s guide to risk assessment.
Firstly, we explain the difference between Hazard and Risk further in our video below….
Difference between Hazard and Risk - Animated Video
The terms hazard and risk can be used to compliment each other. However, they are often poorly applied when it comes to health and safety. By understanding the simple relationship between hazard and risk, we can use them effectively in health and safety management.
To understand the difference between hazard and risk, it’s best to start by looking at the definition of hazard and risk individually. Firstly, let’s look at the definition of hazard….
What is a hazard?
Examples of hazards could such thing as Substances e.g. chemicals, Energy Sources e.g. machinery with moving parts, Work Practices e.g. working at height from a ladder or moving materials with a forklift truck.
OK then, so if a hazard has the potential to cause harm. What is a risk?
What is risk?
Difference between hazard and risk - let's look at an example....
A water cooler on the shopfloor has a leak. This has created a puddle on the floor which is now a slip hazard. If we do not do anything to remove or control this hazard, there is a significant risk that someone could slip and injure themselves.
On the other hand, if we had identified the potential for harm (hazard) and put suitable and simple control measures in place, such as barriers.
The chances of someone coming to harm (risk) would now be low.
So although the hazard still exists, the actual risk would be reduced to an acceptable level.
Now that you know what a hazard is, how do you go about identifying them? Keep reading (and listening) for 10 practical ways to identify hazards…
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Hazard and Risk: 10 Practical Ways to Identify Hazards
Now that we’ve understood the difference between hazard and risk, let’s discuss how you can identify hazards in your workplace. Sometimes when we go ‘hazard spotting’ we can hit a wall when thinking about how to go about it. Sound familiar?
Let’s rattle through some actionable ways that you can identify hazards in your workplace…
First of all, a very obvious one. Just walk around and look. Go out and identify activities, processes & substances that can actually cause injury or ill health to employees.
That’s a useful starting point!
You gotta get out there and get your hands dirty, so to speak. It will give you a good idea of the scope and how much detail you’re going to need to get into.
You will have to bear in mind that you’re only really taking a snapshot at a certain point in time. So you may miss things that aren’t happening on an ongoing basis. Make sure to have a good rummage around.
Look in places that aren’t so obvious.
People have a very good knack of putting equipment that maybe isn’t used often in places where you can’t see it. And even stuff that shouldn’t be used as well!
Give yourself enough time to look in the places that are normally blind to you.
Observe the Work
The second is simply observation of specific work activities. This is something that may take some time depending on what the type of work that’s going on.
You will want to make sure that you’re watching a full cycle of work or even multiple cycles of work, if necessary.
You might want to look at different people doing the same task, for example, because that can be really useful to see the variation of how the work is actually performed and undertaken.
From that, you can use it to help you identify any hazards that might exist. Either from the way it is meant to be done or the way it is being done (might not be the same thing!)
So thirdly, part and parcel of the observation process should be, and it’s absolutely essential, to speak to your employees. Get engaged with your employees, ask them to explain after you’ve you’ve observed how they do their work.
Why they’re actually doing it that way?
What sort of things are they being asked to do?
Have they enough support and resources to do the work?
Do they feel as if there’s any danger to them as they’re carrying it out?
Do they have any concerns around the way things are being asked to be done?
Other than that, you may want to probe a little bit around the physicality of a job. If it is something that you know includes a lot of manual handling and ergonomic/physical stress. Ask them if they are feeling any discomfort.
Have they experienced any ill health or injury and from actually carrying out the work that hasn’t been reported?
Sometimes people feel that something is relatively insignificant and don’t report it. However, after a significant amount of time, there’s may end up turning into a chronic injury or illness which obviously you want to know about. To allow you to take action.
Going back to our accident records, which is an easy way to look at existing problems and things that have caused injury or illness in your business. This should give you an insight into things that hopefully have been improved.
But, it will also highlight areas of high risk, and there may be still opportunity for improvement.
It’s worth casting your eye across these areas and the related activities or tasks that have caused the issues. Just to see and make sure that you’re happy with the outcomes of any investigations. It’s a good way to follow up and make sure that whatever processes you have in place for improvement are actually working.
Number five to identify hazards, leading on from accident records is to take a good look at your sickness absence records.
To check if you can use any information within them to identify some risks that may not be so obvious that aren’t being controlled adequately.
For example, have there been any absences that your employees have attributed to ill health that’s been caused as a result of the work environment or conditions. This may also relate to organizational factors such as inadequate supervision or training.
They may be stressed because of workloads, or there may be issues around interpersonal relationships with management and so on. There are a range of factors and red flags that you can identify from looking at this information.
You can then reverse engineer the issue to get to the root of the problem.
Number six, our inclination is to speak to our front of line operators and people working in the normal shift patterns. But something to be aware of is that there’s a lot of useful information to be found when speaking to contractors and maintenance staff.
Particularly those working out of normal hurs. There’s a lot of unseen activity and sometimes it’s not as well controlled as you would like it to be.
Often it’s high-risk activities that are being carried out when the factory is not producing or the construction site is at a lower level of operations. So that’s something to be very aware of. Make sure to communicate effectively with those that are responsible for managing the workforce during these periods.
Engaging with the people on the ground for some feedback can be highly valuable. You can identify risk that would otherwise be off your radar!
Number 7 then, and one which any HSE professional should be very aware. It’s simply looking at the manufacturers guidance and instruction for use of any equipment machinery. The same applies for chemicals and any other hazardous substances that you’ll be using.
When it goes back to the legal premise for a lot of HSE risk and the responsibility of employers, much of it boils back to making sure you’re following manufacturer’s instructions. It will make it much easier for you to identify hazards.
If you can’t interpret these make sure to get someone competent to interpret them for you. And as long as you are aligned to that guidance and doing everything that they’re asking of you, then for the vast majority of circumstances, you will be in a good place.
Ensure to take into account anything else is happening on your site. Make sure there’s no conflict or impacts, knock-on effects from each of the activities that you’re doing.
To further help you identify hazards,take a close look at your operational procedures and method statements or work instructions. To give you an insight into how work is being managed and workers are being asked to undertake an activity.
You know, this should be a pretty obvious one. But sometimes we get a little bit too comfortable in the fact that a work instruction or method statement actually exists. Then when we take a good look at it, we actually find out that the way the work is managed or planned is really insufficient. Or it presents a lot of issues in itself.
So that’s something to be aware of, to get proactive on and certainly get help from those that are most familiar with the activities or tasks.
The second last bit of guidance here on our top 10 tips on how to identify hazards. That is referring to your local industry or regulator guidance, depending on where you are.
There may be lots of useful information and here in the UK, we have the Health and Safety Executive.
They have a really excellent and comprehensive website. Albeit, their guidance is all in written form and a bit scattered. But, you can take that information, interpret it and communicate it to your staff as and when necessary.
It will bring you up to speed and let you know about the the legal stance on a lot of issues that may be relative to your particular sector or work.
Along with the manufacturer’s guidance, do use your local regulators website. The HSE (UK) website is great as a check mechanism to ensure you’re aligned with the legal expectations or the industry standards. If they don’t have the information themselves, they’re usually pretty good at pointing you in the right direction.
Servicing & Maintenance
Lastly, and tying all of this together, is to do good review of your existing servicing and maintenance for your buildings and your equipment.
Why? To check that anything that you’re doing currently is relevant and sufficient for managing hazards on your site.
You may, after doing your walk around and speaking to people, identify items and things and relate it back to your HSE or local regulatory guidance. You may find that when you tie it all together, there are quite a few gaps between the industry expectation and what you’re actually doing currently.
You’ll want to try and close that gap to make sure that you’re falling into line with industry standards and legal obligations to reduce risk to your business.
Ready to test your Hazard and Risk knowledge?
Now that you understand the difference between hazard and risk, the next step is to use it for risk assessment.
If you are new to risk assessment, we recommend our Risk Assessment – Beginner’s Guide resource. It may help to watch our short video below as an introduction…
That’s almost it for this post on the difference between Hazard and Risk!
Hopefully when you put all these tactics to identify hazards together, it helps you prioritize and develop an improvement plan to reduce risk in your business. We’ve also made a really useful, in-depth resource on Hazards here, if you’d like to keep learning.
As you can see, it’s not just about knowing the basic difference between hazard and risk. We need to be able build on that knowledge to look at how it applies within each business. We can then start to apply it sensibly to manage business risk in an efficient and effective way.
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Are you responsible for Health, Safety & Environment?
Our post on Health and Safety in the UK gives you a good overview of the responsibilities. Safeti can make compliance with Health, Safety & Environment law easier for your business by providing you with support, as and when you need it.