In the world of the safety and environmental professional, the words risk and hazard are used on a daily basis. And, most of the time it may seem that the words are used interchangeably. This maybe due to the behavioral response by people. Fundamentally, the words are different – yet how it is how people respond to the specific situations that tend to cause the confusion.
Hazards are defined as a source of potential adverse effects on someone or something. The adverse effect can result in physical damage or an adverse health effect. A hazard is typically a thing or situation. For example a wet floor which could lead to a slip or fall; a sharp edge which could lead to cuts; contaminated atmospheres which could lead to a harmful health effects; or prolonged exposure to heavy metals which could lead to poisonings.
Risk is the chance or probability that an adverse effect will happen in the presence of a hazard. A sharp edge does not always result in a cut. A wet floor does not always result in a slip and a slip does not always result in a fall.
Just because a hazard is present does not mean that the adverse effect will happen. It is the behavior of individuals and the specific conditions associated with the hazard that result in the adverse effect. Risk is associated with perception, how an individual views the hazard; frequency, the number of times a person is exposed to the hazard; likelihood, how easy it is for the hazard to result in an adverse effect; and magnitude, the severity of the adverse effect.