What is the Difference Between a Hazard and a Risk

Difference Between Hazard and Risk

Hazards and risks are two elements that are routinely confused. It is important to recognise the distinction, as a good understanding of them is essential to managing health and safety in the workplace.

An understanding of hazard and risk is fundamental when undertaking a Risk Assessment, which is a globally recognized system for managing risk.

What is a Hazard?

A hazard is something that causes harm. Hazards are common in the workplace. They could be a vehicle, a piece of machinery, or a puddle of water. Anyone who works on site should be aware of the various hazards. Recognising them and understanding how to control them could save lives.

For example, you could work in a warehouse where you are required to use ladders. Ladders are among the most common workplace hazard. Ladder safety training is necessary so you don’t cause yourself or others harm, or damage company property.

The categories of hazards are:

Mechanical: Such as slipping, tripping or falling over obstacles such as debris on a building site.

Hazardous Substances: These include substances that are poisonous, flammable or can damage the respiratory system if inhaled.

Physical Hazards: These include pressure systems, drowning and manual handling, such as using a spade to dig a hole.

Environment: These include temperature, asphyxiation and noise.

Psychological: Such as stress and fatigue.

Electrical: Objects that use electricity.

Risk Assessment Training

Our Risk Assessment Training provide vital information to recognise and eradicate a hazard that can cause harm within a workplace or an organisation. Risk assessment is the keystone of safety and health that helps identify and mitigate the possibility of such hazards to ensure safety for all.

What is a Risk?

A risk is the probability of something happening that may cause any harm or a negative effect. It can be reduced by implementing safety measures and reducing the exposure to hazards.

Risk Assessments are used to evaluate the risks that hazards present and decide how best to avoid or limit them. Nobody should fear for their wellbeing whilst at work. Most dangers in these environments can be avoided with the right evaluation of the risks.

For example, a person may have a job that involves using a blow torch. They will have to carry out a Risk Assessment to identify the potential hazards and evaluate the risks.

In this case, the person could burn themselves or set something on fire. But what is the likelihood of that happening? If they have been trained how to use it safely, the likelihood is low. But should they accidently set something on fire, the person or their work colleagues could get seriously hurt, or property destroyed. The Risk Assessment could conclude that there is a low possibility of harm being caused, but a severe level of harm should an accident occur.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999) means a business is legally required to carry out Risk Assessments as they have a duty of care to their employees and customers.

How Would a Risk be Evaluated?

One way risk can be evaluated is this 5×5 matrix:

hazards and risks

This matrix compares the two aspects of risk.

On a score of 1 to 4 the risk would be deemed as acceptable and no further action is required. Any existing controls should be maintained.

On a score of 5 to 9 the risk is adequate and you can look to improve it if you can at the next review.

On a score of 10 to 16 the risk is considered to be tolerable but you need to look to improve it.

On a score of 17 to 25 the risk is considered to be unacceptable.  You need to stop what you’re doing immediately and reduce the risk.

This matrix will not give you a hard and fast number. It’s an estimate that helps you decide where and how urgently a precaution is needed.

How do you produce a Risk Assessment?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prescribe 5 key areas to focus on when devising a Risk Assessment in a workplace:

1. What are the hazards?

  • Consider the objects, activities and substances present and how they could harm those in proximity.

2. Who is at Risk?

  • Consider who could be harmed by the hazards you have identified. This could be anyone from an employee to a customer.
  • Consider the specific requirements of individuals, for example, if your processes produce a lot of smoke or fumes, asthmatics could be harmed more seriously than others.

3. How likely are the Risks?

  • Consider the main risks that pose the biggest threat to general wellbeing.

4. Record Findings:

  • Keep records of hazards, the harm they could cause and the methods used to control the risks.

5. Risk Assessment Review:

  • Keep track of new or changing hazards as they present themselves.

Controlling Hazards

There is a “Hierarchy of Controls” that offer methods for controlling hazards.

Step 1: Once a hazard is identified, the first step should be to eliminate it or replace it with something less hazardous if possible.

Step 2: The object or area that presents the hazard should be modified or designed in a way that limits exposure to it.

Step 3: Hazards can be controlled through administrative means such as training, cleaning, maintenance and personal hygiene.

Step 4: Protective equipment can limit exposure to hazards like noise or chemical substances.  

Hazard and Risk Training

For further information and guidance about how to carry out specific Risk Assessments, there are a variety of accredited training courses on the Human Focus website.

These are designed to advise managers and supervisors on a diverse range of risks in the workplace.


This information should help you understand the difference between a hazard and a risk. A hazard can pose a serious threat to people’s wellbeing, but they can be controlled if effectively identified and assessed.

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