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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 most 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.
Basically, a hazard is the potential for harm or an adverse effect (for example, to people as health effects, to organizations as property or equipment losses, or to the environment).
Sometimes the resulting harm is referred to as the hazard instead of the actual source of the hazard. For example, the disease tuberculosis (TB) might be called a "hazard" by some but, in general, the TB-causing bacteria (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) 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 or property. 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|
|Behaviour||Bullying||Anxiety, fear, depression|
Workplace hazards also include practices or conditions that release uncontrolled energy like:
Please see the OSH Answers on Hazard Identification for more information.
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, or harmful effects on the environment.
For example: the risk of developing cancer from smoking cigarettes could be expressed as:
These risks are expressed as a probability or likelihood of developing a disease or getting injured, whereas hazard refers to the agent responsible (i.e. smoking).
Factors that influence the degree or likelihood of risk are:
Risk assessment is the process where you:
The OSH Answers document on Risk Assessment has details on how to conduct an assessment and establish priorities.
It is common to see the process of identifying hazards and assessing the corresponding risk to be described in various ways, including “hazard assessment”, “hazard and risk assessment”, “all hazards risk assessment”, etc.
Regardless of the terminology used, the critical steps are to make sure the workplace has taken a systematic approach that looks for any hazards (existing or potential), has take appropriate steps to determine the level of risk of these hazards, and then taken measures to control the risk or eliminate the hazard.
Documentation from CCOHS will use the terms “hazard identification ” and “risk assessment ” to describe the process of first looking for hazards, then determining the level of risk from that hazard. Hazard control describes the steps that can be taken to protect workers and the workplace.
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 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 of the lung cavity, can develop 20 years or more after exposure to asbestos.
Once the hazard is removed or eliminated, the effects may be reversible or irreversible (permanent). 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: