The meaning of the word hazard can be confusing. Often dictionaries do not give specific definitions or combine it with the term "risk". For example, one dictionary defines hazard as "a danger or risk" which helps explain why many people use the terms interchangeably.
There are many definitions for hazard but the more common definition when talking about workplace health and safety is:
A hazard is any source of potential damage, harm or adverse health effects on something or someone under certain conditions at work.
Basically, a hazard can cause harm or adverse effects (to individuals as health effects or to organizations as property or equipment losses).
Sometimes a hazard is referred to as being the actual harm or the health effect it caused rather than the hazard. For example, the disease tuberculosis (TB) might be called a hazard by some but in general the TB-causing bacteria would be considered the "hazard" or "hazardous biological agent".
Workplace hazards can come from a wide range of sources. General examples include any substance, material, process, practice, etc that has the ability to cause harm or adverse health effect to a person under certain conditions. See Table 1.
Examples of Hazards and Their Effects
|Workplace Hazard||Example of Hazard||Example of Harm Caused|
|Source of Energy||Electricity||Shock, electrocution|
|Condition||Wet floor||Slips, falls|
|Process||Welding||Metal fume fever|
|Practice||Hard rock mining||Silicosis|
As shown in Table 1, workplace hazards also include practices or conditions that release uncontrolled energy like:
Risk is the chance or probability that a person will be harmed or experience an adverse health effect if exposed to a hazard. It may also apply to situations with property or equipment loss.
For example: The risk of developing cancer from smoking cigarettes could be expressed as "cigarette smokers are 12 times (for example) more likely to die of lung cancer than non-smokers". Another way of reporting risk is "a certain number, "Y", of smokers per 100,000 smokers will likely develop lung cancer" (depending on their age and how many years they have been smoking). These risks are expressed as a probability or likelihood of developing a disease or getting injured, whereas hazards refer to the possible consequences (e.g., lung cancer, emphysema and heart disease from cigarette smoking).
Factors that influence the degree of risk include:
Risk assessment is the process where you:
The OSH Answers Risk Assessment has details on how to conduct an assessment and establish priorities.
A general definition of adverse health effect is "any change in body function or the structures of cells that can lead to disease or health problems".
Adverse health effects include:
Not necessarily. To answer this question, you need to know:
The effects can be acute, meaning that the injury or harm can occur or be felt as soon as a person comes in contact with the hazardous agent (e.g., a splash of acid in a person's eyes). Some responses to may be chronic (delayed). For example, exposure to poison ivy may cause red swelling on the skin two to six hours after contact with the plant. On the other hand, longer delays are possible: mesothelioma, a kind of cancer in the lining in the lung cavity, can develop over 20 years or more after exposure to asbestos.
Once the hazard is removed or eliminated, the effects may be reversible or irreversible. For example, a hazard may cause an injury that can heal completely (reversible) or result in an untreatable disease (irreversible).
A common way to classify hazards is by category:
Please use OSH Answers to find information about specific hazards and their control. If you are unable to find the information you are looking for, please consider using our subscription products, or contacting our free Inquiries Service for more assistance.
Document last updated on November 20, 2009