The distinction between hazards and risks in occupational health

Written by: Fit for Work team | Posted in: Blog

hazards vs risksA lot of the time when we’re considering potentially dangerous situations in the workplace, we talk about them in terms of hazards and risks. At first glance, these two words seem to have very similar meanings, but when it comes to occupational health, they are actually very different.

So what is the difference between a hazard and a risk? A hazard, as defined by the TUC, ‘is something that can cause harm’, and a risk ‘is the chance, high or low, that any hazard will actually cause somebody harm’.

Examples of hazards could include working with heavy machinery, using chemicals at work, a poorly set up workstation or strained office relationships. A risk would be a danger that these situations may pose; for example, physical injury, chemical burns, RSI or increased stress levels.

Your employer is responsible for identifying hazards in the workplace and assessing the risks to staff members. It is a legal requirement that they do this, as set out in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSWR) 1999.

If you are concerned about a hazard in your workplace, you can ask your employer to carry out a risk assessment. This is where an employer identifies all the potential hazards in the workplace, considers the risks these may pose, and then takes steps to reduce these risks.

The MHSWR law states that a risk assessment must be ‘suitable and sufficient’. The Health and Safety Executive recommends that employers carry out risk assessments in five steps:

  • identify potential hazards associated with work activities;
  • identify who could be at risk from those hazards;
  • implement control measures – how risks are managed at the moment and what further steps might be required to reduce the risks further;
  • record the findings of the risk assessment;
  • review the risk assessment on a regular basis.

If you are concerned about a risk in your workplace, you can phone the Fit for Work advice line on 0800 032 6235 to speak to a trained advisor. To find out more about risk assessments, visit the Fit for Work website.  (Manufacturers based in the West Midlands can access manufacturing-specific resources on the Fit for Work website.) The Health and Safety Executive website has lots of useful guidance on risk management, as well as a risk assessment template.

If you are an employer and have an employee who has been off for work four weeks or more, you can refer them to Fit for Work by visiting and clicking on ‘refer an employee’.

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