What is a risk (Ever)

What is a risk: A risk is a situation involving exposure to danger.

It can also be said to be the chance or probability that a person will be harmed or experience an adverse health effect if exposed to a hazard. It may also apply to situations with property or equipment loss, or harmful effects on the environment.

Example: The risk of developing cancer from smoking cigarettes could be expressed as:

  • “Cigarette smokers are 12 times (for example) more likely to die of lung cancer than non-smokers”, or
  • “The number per 100,000 smokers who will develop lung cancer” (actual number depends on factors such as their age and how many years they have been smoking).

They are expressed as a probability or likelihood of developing a disease or getting injured, whereas hazard refers to the agent responsible (i.e. smoking).

Factors that influence the degree or likelihood of risk are:

  • The nature of the exposure: How much a person is exposed to a hazardous thing or condition (e.g., Several times a day or once a year),
  • How the person is exposed (e.g., Breathing in a vapour, skin contact), and
  • The severity of the effect. For example, one substance may cause skin cancer, while another may cause skin irritation. Cancer is a much more serious effect than irritation.

Since risk is expressed in terms of likelihood/probability, factors stated above are used to determine the risk level through the process called “Risk Assessment”

 Read Also: Objectives of risk management in HSE


It is a risk management process which involves identifying potential hazards and analyzes what could happen if the hazard results to an accident.

It is also defined as the determination of quantitative or qualitative estimate of risk related to a well-defined situation and a recognized threat hazard.

Five-step process in risk assessment and management

Establish the context –           Understand the operating context and environment
Identify the risks / hazards –           Identify the internal and external risks / hazards that poses the threat
Analyze the risks –  Systemic analysis of various contributing and leading factors (e.g. extend of the   exposure, multiple exposures)
Evaluate and prioritize the risks –  Characterize and prioritize the list of risks for further action
Tackle the risks – Identify the range of options to tackle the risk & implement the best choice using available resources.


It takes into consideration of majorly two (variables), which are the likelihood and severity of occurrence.

Likelihood of Harm

Very Likely – Typically experienced at least once every six months by an individual.

Likely – Typically experienced once every five years by an individual.

Unlikely – Typically experienced once during the working lifetime of an individual.

Very unlikely – Less than 1% chance of being experienced by an individual during their working lifetime.

Potential severity of harm – When establishing potential severity of harm, information about the relevant work activity should be considered, together with:

  1. Part of the body likely to be affected.
  2. Nature of the harm, ranging from slight to extremely harmful:
  3. Slightly harmful: Like Superficial injuries, minor cuts and bruises, eye irritation from dust, nuisance and irritation, ill-health leading to temporary discomfort.
  4. Harmful: Like lacerations, burns, concussion, serious sprains, minor fractures, deafness, dermatitis, asthma, work-related upper limb disorders, ill-health.
  5. Extremely harmful: Like amputations, major fractures, poisonings, multiple injuries, fatal injuries, occupational cancer, other severely life shortening diseases, acute fatal diseases) 

Definition for Risk Level

Very low –

These risks are considered acceptable. No further action is necessary other than to ensure that the controls are maintained.

Low –

No additional controls are required unless they can be implemented at very low-cost (in terms of time, money, and effort). Actions to further reduce these risks are assigned low priority. Arrangements should be made to ensure that the controls are maintained.

Medium –

Consideration should be as to whether the risks can be lowered, where applicable, to a tolerable level and preferably to an acceptable level, but the costs of additional risk reduction measures should be taken into account.

Arrangements should be made to ensure that controls are maintained, particularly if the risk levels area associated with harmful consequences.

High –

Substantial efforts should be made to reduce the risk.

Risk reduction measures should be implemented urgently within a defined time period and it might be necessary to consider suspending or restricting the activity, or to apply interim risk control measures, until this has been completed.

Considerable resources might have to be allocated to additional control measures.

Arrangements should be made to ensure that controls are maintained, particularly if the risk levels are associated with extremely harmful consequences and very harmful consequences.

Very high –

This level is unacceptable.

There should be Substantial improvements in risk control measures so that the risk is reduced to a tolerable or acceptable level.

Management should halt work activity until risk controls are implemented that reduces the risk so that it is no longer very high.

If it is not possible to reduce the risk, the work should remain prohibited.

Read Also: Dynamic risk assessment – How to carry out


The hierarchy of risk control is useful in determining which control measures are appropriate.

The elements of hierarchy of control follows thus:

  1. Elimination
  2. Substitution
  3. Engineering controls
  4. Administrative controls
  5. Personal protective equipment

Let us explain the different elements;

Elimination: This involve removing the hazard from the workplace so that no one is exposed to the risk it posses. Example; a production process can be changed so that some chemicals, materials or equipment are no longer required.

Substitution: This is the second most effective hazard control measure. It involves replacing a hazard material or equipment with less hazardous ones. For example a lead-based paint can be replaces with paint that do not contain lead.

Engineering Controls: This involves designing a solution that controls the hazard at its source. Example: Building a physical barrier between the personnel and the hazard.

Administrative Control: Developing work procedures that will favour safe work practice, like workers rotation to reduce exposure time, provision of welfare facilities, etc.

Personal protective equipment: Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is termed – The last line of defense. It is used when all other control measures fail. They include; Hand gloves, coveralls, respirators, hard hats, safety glasses, high-visibility clothing, safety footwear, etc.

Read Also: Manual Handling: Risk, Regulation & Good manual handling techniques

By Ubong Edet

A passionate Health and Safety professional with a good level of field experience and relevant certifications including NEBOSH, OSHA, ISO, etc certifications. An Health and Safety activist who believes in the growth and continual improvement of the profession. He is going all out to create awareness and safe precious lives.

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