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What’s the Difference Between Safety, Hazard and Risk?

It’s that old chestnut again: “what’s the difference between safety, hazard and risk?”

Have you been in a meeting where colleagues are misusing words like as Safety, Hazard and Risk? This is not uncommon and it’s easy to understand why there is confusion.

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A Short Story

Three old timers named Safety, Hazard and Risk walk into a bar. They get their drink and sit down at a table near a window.

“I don’t like it here” said Safety. “It’s noisy, dirty, smelly, unfriendly, unhealthy drinking alcohol, we are sat near the toilet” …..blah blah…

“You’re always complaining” said Hazard. “Instead of complaining, you should really look at whether it’s going to cause you any harm because not everything does”.

This banter between Safety and Hazard carried on for quite sometime with each arguing about their own views and opinions. But then they suddenly stopped and realised that Risk was very quiet

“You’ve been really quiet Risk” said Hazard. “What do you think?”

“Well” said Risk, “you can think about everything we do as unsafe or a hazard but at the end of the day, it’s all about chance”.

What’s the difference?

Google the word Safety and it comes up with the definition “the condition of being protected from or unlikely to cause danger, risk, or injury”.

For Hazard and Risk, we can refer to ISO 45001 (Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems) and ISO 31000 (Risk Management Guidelines) respectively and they offer the following definitions:

Hazard: “Source with a potential to cause injury and ill health”. Here are we focused on exposure to people and of course we can consider hazards in other categories such as environmental (e.g., climate change), financial (investments), political (e.g., Brexit) etc.

Risk: ISO 31000:2018 defines Risk as “Effect of uncertainty on objectives”. Risk can be expressed a combination of the consequences (I.e., outcome) of an event (including changes in circumstances) and the associated chance of something happening (I.e., likelihood or probability)”.

In another article, I outlined how the risk definition offered the construct for a risk equation. This is well worth reading for a slightly deeper dive and overview.

In conclusion:

  • It’s not all doom and gloom. Whilst we can talk all day and every day about unsafe issues, it’s important to recognise and appreciate that not everything will cause harm.
  • When you conclude that there is potential to cause harm, we can then make a meaningful attempt in working out what’s the likelihood.
  • Knowing consequence and likelihood, we are in a much better place to make a difference in reducing risks.

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