Risk Management

What is the difference between hazard and risk?

Emily Lundh @Emily
Safety & Compliance
5 min read
January 7, 2022

A hazard is anything that has the potential to cause harm, while a risk is the chance of the hazard causing that harm and how serious that harm could be. These two terms get thrown around a lot in the safety management space, and many might think of them as interchangeable. But, while they’re both seen as forces of danger to workers and businesses, they represent different parts of health and safety management in construction.

What is a hazard?

A hazard is a threat that has the potential to cause accidents, incidents, injuries or any kind of harm or damage. In construction, hazards can be threats posed to a person on a job site, or threats to the job site itself.

Different construction projects will present entirely different hazards. For instance, electrocution is a common hazard on an electrical job site while slips and trips is a more likely hazard on a port job.

All the same, completing a JHA (job hazard analysis) is the first step in identifying the potential hazards on a job site, no matter the job type.

Hazard assessments or JHAs involve identifying and analyzing on-site hazards through a site-specific review. Since construction sites range so drastically by location and type of work, the assessment of hazards will be varied.

Examples of a hazard in construction

There are a multitude of hazards in every branch of construction, but the same four fatal accidents account for 65% of all construction deaths. With that in mind, it’s crucial to thoroughly understand the hazards your crews are walking into every day.

Here are the most common construction site hazards:

  • Falls and heights
  • Electrical hazards
  • Struck by and caught-between hazards
  • Hazardous material exposure
  • Fire and explosion hazards
  • Confined spaces
  • Manual handling
  • Noise

Different hazard categories such as heavy machinery, dynamic environments, heights, electrical work and handling of special materials are common aspects of a day’s work for many. In fact, for some, these activities can become so ingrained in their routine that they start to forget about the related dangers.

That’s why safety measures like hazard assessments are a crucial part of combating fatalities in construction.

(Want to learn more about how to create change? Watch this powerful conversation about preventing workplace tragedies between SALUS CEO Gabe Guetta and Ashling Boyd-Slater, Owner and Founder of CB Safety.)

What is a risk?

A risk is the likelihood of a hazard happening and the severity of harm affiliated with that hazard. Risk can measure a threat posed to a worker, to a piece of property or even to a construction company as a whole. It is often categorized as “high”, “low” or “medium” in the form of a risk matrix. Risk will look different from industry to industry, for instance, a general contractor’s risk assessment may look a lot different than that of an electrical contractor.

As with hazards, there are several common risks in construction that can be categorized under different types, including safety risks, environmental risks, financial risks and even productivity risks. Their potential impact on construction workers and companies can be complicated to measure. Utilizing safety software to measure risk can be a great initiative to make this process simpler.

Examples of a risk in construction

A construction risk can be described as any potential loss or exposure that arises during the execution of a construction project. Examples of construction project risk may include:

  • Safety hazards leading to worker accidents and injuries
  • Unknown site conditions
  • Unexpected increases in material costs
  • Labor shortages
  • Damage or theft to equipment and tools
  • Issues with trade partners and suppliers
  • Poor project management

While these growing risk trends might seem more related to safety risks than financial risks, the two types of risks can be very directly connected. More and more industry leaders are finding that enhanced health and safety helps the bottom line, and that the neglect of safety can have devastating financial consequences.

Risk vs. hazard: What’s the difference?

The main difference between a risk and a hazard is that a hazard presents a threat while a risk deals with the possible outcomes of that threat.

A hazard is an on-site factor that has the potential to cause accidents, incidents, injuries or any kind of harm or damage. A risk, on the other hand, describes the probability of harm, damage or loss actually happening.

In a nutshell, a hazard acts as a source of danger, and risk deals with the potential results of that danger and all of its subsequent fallouts.

What are risk/hazard control measures?

There are a few common forms that teams complete as control measures to mitigate hazards and risk. They’re listed below:

Job safety analysis (JSA)

A systematic procedure aimed at evaluating a construction job to recognize potential hazards and determine the appropriate preventive measures.

Job hazard analysis (JHA)

A method focused on job tasks to identify potential hazards before they lead to injury. It emphasizes the relationship between the worker, task, tools and the environment, while pinpointing controls to mitigate or eradicate the hazard.

Safety risk assessment

A methodical approach to mitigate health and safety risks arising from workplace hazards. Key elements to a risk assessment entail identifying hazards, evaluating associated risks, implementing control measures, documenting findings and reviewing control measures.

Hazard assessment

The process of identification of potential hazards, assessing the associated risks and effectively managing these risks within the experimental design process by integrating suitable hazard controls. Both hazard and risk assessment processes are fundamental to building an effective safety program that reduces incidents as well as business impact.

Risk matrix

A visual tool to understand the risks your construction project may face, along with their likelihood and severity. A risk matrix is often a standardized structure in grid format where the likelihood of risks is represented on the Y axis and the severity of their consequences on the X axis. Both axes use a scale ranging from very low to very high. Risks applicable to your job site are positioned within the matrix based on their placement along these scales. The outcome is an assessment of risk levels.

Risks and hazards have their key differences, and in this post, we’ve learned you can’t have a risk without a hazard. Being aware of common hazards and understanding their risks can significantly reduce the chances of having an on-site accident. Construction teams can do this by way of control measures such as completing a hazard analysis and risk assessment.

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