Safety Best Practices

Understanding the Difference Between Hazard and Risk Assessment

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Amandeep Beesla
Safety Insight & Innovation
5 min read
January 7, 2022

Creating a safe and healthy workplace is a top priority for all players in the construction industry. Many business owners and managers go to great lengths to ensure their staff is well taken care of, and for good reason. Several dangerous, even deadly, scenarios can arise if proper safety measures are not properly implemented and strictly adhered to.

The question then: What safety measures are necessary, and how do we understand them? That’s where interpreting the difference between hazard and risk assessment becomes crucially important.

When working on safety plans, many perceive the terms to be interchangeable, representing the same issues on worksites. When speaking with experts in both the hazard and risk assessment fields, however, the key differences between hazards and risks in the construction industry start to emerge.

Let’s dive into the key differences between hazard management and risk management and what site managers can do to ensure that both these equally important safety measures are correctly and effectively implemented.

A hazard represents the object or cause of potential harm on a worksite.

What is a Hazard?

The dictionary defines a hazard as “the effect of unpredictable and unanalyzable forces in determining events.” Simply put, a hazard is a source of danger.

As anyone with experience in the construction industry knows, there are a number of potential sources of danger on a worksite. These sources can range depending on the type of construction work being done, but overall, many hazards are similar in nature.

Research shows that year after year, construction is the industry with the most fatal work injuries. With hazards like working at height, moving objects, collapsing buildings or trenches, trips and falls, and airborne materials, construction sites present many sources of danger. Overall, hazard represents the object or cause of potential harm on a worksite.

What is a Risk?

When looking at the definition of risk, it becomes obvious why many in the industry get it confused with hazard assessment. Risk is defined as the possibility of something bad happening.

Hazard acts as the source, risk the outcome.

As with hazards, there are several common risks in the construction industry. A big risk in the industry right now is the labor shortage. Labor shortages mean that the likelihood of new, untrained hires working on the job is higher. And untrained workers mean the potential for risks to play out rises exponentially.

Another example of a risk is simply poor logistics. If your worksite or staging area is too small for the project, that lack of proper space is a risk. Ordering and operating the wrong tools in the wrong environment, like cranes too big for the job, that’s a risk too. Risk is the project safety summary, which allows us to identify hazards and be prepared for big-picture negative outcomes should they play out.

Risk is defined as the possibility of something bad happening....Hazard acts as the source, risk the outcome.

Why Hazard Assessment and Risk Assessment are Important

Now that we understand the difference between hazard and risk in the construction industry, let’s take a look at why properly assessing these two is an important step in the worksite safety process.

For hazard assessment, a site-specific review is necessary. Since construction sites range so drastically by location and type of work, the assessment of hazards will be varied as well. A worksite in the middle of New York City, for example, will have significantly different hazards identified compared to a worksite by the ocean.

With this in mind, a site-specific hazard professional will come onto the worksite to identify and analyze the various onsite hazards. They will then create a plan for hazard mitigation and public safety, and outline directives to avoid injuries and fatalities.

Similarly, risk assessment is the process of identifying, mitigating, and controlling risks on a unique worksite. The key difference is what is being assessed. Instead of looking at dangerous heights, machinery, sharp objects, and potential collapses, assessing risk is looking at financial, legal, environmental, project, and safety as a whole. While the hazard assessment can be a contributing factor when looking at risk assessment, it’s only one piece of the pie.

The risk assessment will outline how to properly manage risks during the project. The steps of this assessment include identifying risks, prioritizing them, and determining risk response strategies.

Risk Assessment vs. Hazard Assessment

How are they different? How are they similar? As we discussed, the main difference between the two is what is being assessed.

Let’s say an identified hazard on a construction site is height. The team is building a new 35-story building in the middle of an up-and-coming business district. They’ll inevitably need to work at the height of the building to move the project forward. The height itself is identified as a hazard, and the site expert must now create a plan to ensure injury or fatality does not occur because of this hazard. They’ll identify ways to avoid danger and put safety measures in place to prevent harm.

The risk assessment will look at the same issue of height and determine the cost of having an employee working in that condition. Is it worth the finances lost should the employee get hurt? Can the job be done by avoiding height? They’ll develop a strategy that most likely includes insurance, extensive training, ways to do the work that limit employees working at heights longer than absolutely necessary, and more.

Overall, to better understand hazard and risk assessment, ask yourself: “What hazard is present, and how does the presence of that hazard increase overall project risk?”

Hazard and Risk Assessment Solutions with Salus

Both hazard and risk assessment ultimately exist to keep teams safe. It is crucial to ensure that both of these assessments are conducted accurately because they could be the difference between financial gain and loss, timely and late completion, protected and injured staff… and even worker fatality.

Taking the correct steps to have these assessments accurately completed is a necessity. Many site managers use safety software as an added measure to cover what the human eye might miss.

If you are looking to ramp up your hazard and risk assessments, partnering with Salus is a solution that can take your worksite safety to the next level. This tool can take on asset and compliance management tasks, digital forms, accountability features, and even provide subcontractor portals with tailored content to match your needs.

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