It might feel as though the words ‘hazard’ and ‘risk’ get used synonymously and are often confused. But in fact, they both have very different meanings and both have their impact on health and safety in the workplace. Here we explain the difference between them so you can safely manage all the hazards and risks in your workplace.

While they don’t mean the same thing, they are very closely related and you can’t have one without the other. Without a hazard, there is no risk. But they are different, and understanding the differences is an important part of risk assessment. So let’s look at what makes hazards and risks different.

So what’s the difference between a hazard and a risk?

What is a Hazard?

A hazard is something that does not directly cause harm but has the potential to cause harm or loss. A hazard generally increases the effect of danger and has the potential to cause an accident. This could be in the form of a  a substance, machinery, activity, method of work, or process. Hazards are found in nearly every workplace, home, and environment.

Sign saying Caution Fork-lift Truck Operating

How to identify a hazard?

  • Collect existing information about workplace hazards.
  • Inspect the workplace for safety and health hazards.
  • Inspect and identify health-related hazards.
  • Conduct incident investigations to identify the hazard.
  • Identify hazards associated with emergency situations.
Danger sign about a hazardous area

What is a Hazard in the Workplace?

Depending on your workplace, these could include;

  • Biological – Viruses, bacteria, insects, animals, etc., that can cause harm. For example; mould, dust, blood, other bodily fluids, vermin, and other parasites.
  • Chemical – Will depend on the properties of the chemicals used and how they are stored on the premises. It includes both health and physical hazards, such as skin irritation, carcinogenicity, flammability, and radiation.
  • Ergonomic – Physical factors that can lead to musculoskeletal injuries. For example: lighting, equipment layout, manual handling process and workstation layout.
  • Physical – Environmental factors that can cause harm when anyone comes into contact with. This includes heights, vibration, radiation, and pressure.
  • Psychosocial – This is an occupational hazards which can have an adverse effect on an individual’s mental health or well-being. This includes hazards such as stress, bullying, and workplace violence.

The statistics of workplace accidents and dangers are shocking! The Health and Safety Executive reports that 1.6 million working people are suffering from a work-related illness or injury.

What is a risk?

A risk is a chance that somebody could be harmed by the hazard.

A risk calculates how likely it is that someone will be hurt, and how severe an injury would be.

A risk will be given a rating, for example, high, medium or low taking into account these two factors; the possible severity of injury and the likelihood of the harm occurring.

Risk is the probability of harm that hazards could cause if not checked and precautions put in place. In the case of a person, it is the possibility of them being injured or receiving an adverse health effect due to the hazards.

The severity of harm could range from minor short-term harm to major life-changing injuries or death. The likelihood of harm occurring from the hazard could range from very unlikely to highly likely.

As an employer, it’s your responsibility to determine the hazards, measure the risks and install controls to protect your workforce.

A Risk of explosion sign

When you consider the degree of risk that a hazard poses to your employees or yourself, you must bear in mind the following factors that can influence risk:

  • The frequency of exposure.
  • The route of exposure.
  • How severe the injury or adverse health effect of exposure is.

The risk is the chances of quantifiable loss, damage, injury, liability, or any other negative outcome resulting from internal or external hazards. Through some preventable action, you can minimise risk. To minimise the risk, you need to know the types of risks and what events can cause them.

What is a risk in the workplace?

A risk in a workplace could include.

A picture of a caution wet floor sign

Slips and Trips

This could be spillages making the floors wet, poorly fitted floors loose tiles, poorly fitted carpets that could have the potential to trip you up, or even loose cables from computers.

A sign on a white wall saying Highly Flammable

Hazardous Substances

If not stored correctly they could get knocked over, or even explode.

A sign on wooden panels saying Danger scaffolding incomplete

Working at Height

One of the biggest causes of workplace fatalities. Must check ground conditions, and see if the surfaces are fragile. Make sure the job has been properly planned.

A boot

Sprains, Strains, and Pains

 Could be caused by a slip or a trip from poorly fitting floors or even a wet floor. Bad-fitting shoes can contribute to your risk of a sprain.

The Key differences between risks and hazards.

Hazard identifies a source that can cause harm, danger, or loss, whereas a risk describes the probability of harm occurring as a result of that identified hazard.

Hazards are related to physical objects, situations, or settings that can cause harm or damage. A risk relates to an action that is a result of a hazard.


So you should now know what a hazard is (something with the potential to cause harm) and what risk is (the chance that somebody could be harmed by the hazard).

Activities may have many hazards, but the level of risk can be reduced by good management and controls. Where you can eliminate hazards, you can remove the risk.

It is impossible, and you are not expected to eliminate all the risks in your workplace, but putting in place safety procedures, improving the work environment and staying on top of hazard and risks will help maintain a safe and secure workplace.