Chapter 15: Hazard as a concept

Chapter 15: Hazard as a concept

In occupational health and safety (OHS), the term ‘hazard’ is defined and used in many different ways. In introducing a series of hazard-specific chapters in the OHS Body of Knowledge, this chapter considers some of the issues associated with these various definitions and applications, including, for example, the common misidentification of failures of controls as hazards and equating hazard with risk. This chapter discusses a range of definitions and classification systems for hazards and proposes that while different definitions and classification systems may be useful depending on the context of the OHS activity; extended discussion on the topic is advocated. This discussion needs to acknowledge that multiple hazards may be present in many situations, and that workplaces are inherently complex systems. While different definitions and classifications of hazards may be tailored to different contexts and purposes, the chapter concludes that the fundamental test as to whether something is a hazard is that if it is eliminated there is no risk.

Keywords: hazard, hazardous, risk, energy, complex systems

First year of publication: 2012

Current Version: 2019

Chapter 15: Hazard as a concept

Table of contents

1 Introduction
2 ‘Hazard’ definitional issues
2.1 Scope of definitions
2.2 Confusion with ‘failures in control’
2.3 Confusion with ‘risk’
3 Hazard as a ‘source of potentially damaging energy’
3.1 Limitations of the energy-damage conception of hazard
4 Classifications of hazards
4.1 A common classification
4.2 Energy-based hazard classification
4.3 Contextual classification of hazards
4.4 Psychosocial hazards
5 Implications for practice
6 Summary
Key thinkers


Pam Pryor AO, BSc, BEd, GDipOHM, MAppSci, ChOHSP, CFSIA

Manager OHS Body of Knowledge Development, Australian Institute of Health and Safety

With a background in OHS consulting and OHS education Pam now specialises in activities around OHS capability and related aspects of OHS professionality. She was chair of the Technical Panel that developed the OHS Body of Knowledge and inaugural Registrar of the Australian OHS Education Accreditation Board. Her current role as Manager OHS Body of Knowledge Development focuses on the ongoing maintenance and development of the OHS Body of Knowledge and associated resources. Pam was a key player in the development of the INSHPO Global OHS Capability Framework and received the 2017-18 President’s Award from American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) for this work. Pam received an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2018 for her contribution to OHS through leadership and advisory roles, particularly in developing standards for education frameworks.

The OHS Body of Knowledge takes a conceptual approach which enables it to be applied in different contexts and frameworks.
To optimise its value for education and professional development learning outcomes have been developed for each technical chapter in the Body of Knowledge.
The learning outcomes as described give an indication of what should be the capabilities of an OHS professional; it is up to those developing OHS education programs, OHS professionals planning their CPD or recruiters or employers selecting or developing people for the OHS function to consider the required breadth vs. depth .
Please read the section on using the learning outcomes before delving into the leaning outcomes of the individual chapters.
The numbers against each learning outcome refer to the chapter number of the BOK download page. No learning outcomes have been developed for the chapters considered introductory or underpinning knowledge (that is chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 1, .13, 14, 15.)