Headshot of general manager Jeff Kirshner. Written By: Jeff Kirschner, General Manager
June 13, 2024

Table of Contents

    Although the terms “risk” and “hazard” are often used interchangeably in everyday conversation, they carry distinct meanings that can greatly impact decision-making and safety strategies.

    In this blog post, we explain the difference between a hazard and risk, how to identify each and tips on proper risk and hazard control.

    What is a Risk?

    A risk is the likelihood or probability of a hazard causing harm and the severity of the consequences if that harm occurs. It involves evaluating the potential impact and the probability of an incident occurring. Risks are measured on a low to high-level scale.

    Basically: Risk=Likelihood x Severity

    For example, a high-risk level scenario would involve a contractor working near high-voltage electrical equipment. This equipment presents a significant risk of electrocution or burns if workers do not follow proper lockout/tagout procedures or wear appropriate PPE.

    An administrator working in an office would be an example of a low-risk level. Although hazards may still be present, such as ergonomic issues or tripping hazards, the likelihood of severe injury is significantly lower.

    What is a Hazard?

    A hazard is any source, condition, or situation that has the potential to cause harm or adverse health effects. Hazards are commonly divided into seven categories:

    1. Physical Hazards

    • Definition: Substances or activities that threaten your physical safety.
    • Example: Extreme temperatures

    2. Chemical Hazards

    • Definition: Hazardous substances that can cause adverse health effects due to exposure.
    • Example: Asbestos

    3. Ergonomic Hazards

    • Definition: Workplace conditions that can strain the body.
    • Example: Manual handling

    4. Health Hazards

    • Definition: Conditions or situations that can negatively impact worker health over time.
    • Example: Poor air quality

    5. Psychological Hazards

    • Definition: Conditions that can cause mental health issues or emotional distress.
    • Example: Bullying

    6. Safety Hazards

    • Definition: Conditions that can lead to immediate injuries or accidents.
    • Example: Exposed live wires

    7. Workplace Hazards

    • Definition: Hazardous conditions specific to a particular work environment or industry.
    • Example: Confined spaces

    Examples of Risks vs. Hazards

    Here’s a detailed comparison between risks and hazards:

    Scenario Hazard Risk
    Confined Space Entry Oxygen deficiency Hypoxia due to inadequate ventilation
    Chemical Processing Hydrogen sulfide gas leak H2S poisoning if gas detectors fail
    High-Pressure Systems Steam leaks Severe burns if workers are not wearing proper PPE
    Work at Heights Unsecured ladders Falls resulting in fatal injuries
    Emergency Evacuations Slippery floors Slips and trips if pathways aren’t cleared

    How to Identify a Risk vs. Hazard

    Understanding how to identify both hazards and risks is crucial for effective safety management in industrial environments. Without this understanding, you might misjudge the severity or likelihood of potential incidents, leading to inadequate prevention measures.

    Here are two steps to identifying risks and hazards, complete with how to do a proper risk assessment.

    1. Identify the Hazard

    When identifying hazards, you may start by asking yourself questions such as:

    • What substances or environments do I interact with?
    • What objects or equipment might I accidentally strike myself with or find myself caught in, on, or between?
    • From what heights or platforms could I potentially fall?
    • What are the potential hazards that could cause me to slip or trip?
    • In what ways might I strain or overexert myself?

    From there, you can conduct more thorough safety inspections and hazard assessments, including reviewing material safety data sheets (MSDS) for chemical hazards and monitoring air quality for gas concentrations.

    2. Complete a Risk Assessment

    After identifying your hazards, analyze the likelihood and potential severity of incidents.

    Here’s an example matrix you can use to conduct a risk analysis risks based on likelihood and impact:

    Likelihood Catastrophic Major Moderate Minor Negligible
    Almost Certain Extreme Risk Extreme Risk High Risk High Risk Moderate Risk
    Likely Extreme Risk High Risk High Risk Moderate Risk Low Risk
    Possible High Risk High Risk Moderate Risk Moderate Risk Low Risk
    Unlikely High Risk Moderate Risk Moderate Risk Low Risk Low Risk
    Rare Moderate Risk Low Risk Low Risk Low Risk Very Low Risk


    3. Mitigate the Risk

    The hierarchy of controls identifies and ranks safeguards to protect workers from hazards.

    Based on the graphic above, here is an example of how to use the hierarchy of controls:


    Workers in an industrial facility frequently handle chemicals, leading to reports of skin irritation and potential chemical burns due to inadequate protective measures.

    Risk Assessment:

    • Hazard: Exposure to hazardous chemicals
    • Risk: High likelihood of exposure with potential for severe injuries (chemical burns, respiratory issues, etc.)

    Application of the Hierarchy of Controls:


    • Action: Eliminate the use of hazardous chemicals by redesigning the process or using non-chemical methods (e.g., mechanical cleaning instead of chemical cleaning).
    • Result: Physically removes the hazard by removing the need for chemical handling altogether.


    • Action: Replace highly hazardous chemicals with less hazardous alternatives.
    • Result: Reduces the risk by using chemicals that are less harmful, lowering the potential for chemical burns or respiratory issues.

    Engineering Controls

    • Action: Install engineering controls such as:
      • Local exhaust ventilation (LEV) to capture and remove hazardous fumes.
      • Automated chemical dispensing systems to minimize direct handling.
      • Splash guards and containment barriers around chemical storage areas.
    • Result: Isolates workers from hazardous chemicals by containing or removing them effectively.

    Administrative Controls

    • Action: Implement new work practices by:
      • Developing and enforcing standard operating procedures (SOPs) for safe chemical handling.
      • Providing comprehensive training on proper chemical use and emergency procedures.
      • Posting clear signage for chemical hazards and safety measures.
      • Scheduling regular safety audits and chemical inventory checks.
    • Result: Changes how employees work to reduce exposure and increase awareness.

    Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

    • Action: Provide appropriate PPE such as:
      • Chemical-resistant gloves, aprons, and face shields.
      • Respiratory protection for handling volatile chemicals.
    • Result: Protects the worker from direct exposure, though it relies on individual compliance and proper use.

    Ensure Your Workplace is Equipped With Proper Hazard & Risk Assessment Training

    Misjudging a hazard or failing to recognize a risk can result in life-threatening injuries, costly equipment damage, or environmental disasters.

    At Trojan Safety, we specialize in providing comprehensive health and safety training programs that empower every member of your team to recognize potential hazards, understand their probability and impact, and implement safety measures to mitigate identified risks.

    We can provide your organization with the following specific health and safety courses:

    Contact us today to learn how we can help make your industrial operations safer by training your employees on controlling hazards and managing health risks effectively.

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