Lesson 2 Risk, occupational risk, health threat

  • It is useful to draw at the beginning a brief overview of occupational safety and health (OSH) legislation at the EU and international level, which has an impact on official nomenclature and definitions.
  • According to legal foundations of EU functioning, the European Union bases its legislature in a form of directives, which consecutively must be transposed into national legislation by the EU Member States.
  • One of the directives is the Council Directive 89/391/EEC of 12 June 1989 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work.
  • The directive sets principles for occupational health and safety management. It is followed by several individual OSH directives setting specific conditions for different circumstances.
  • This means that, as a general rule, in each EU country there should be specified duties and responsibilities of employers, workers, as well as general and specific actions towards assuring healthy and safe working conditions.
  • The Framework Directive has been mentioned here, because in its text there are parts mentioning the term “risk”: prevention of occupational risks, elimination of risk (…) factors. And the prevention of occupational risks is one of the main elements mentioned there.
  • The words “risk”, “threat”, “hazard” occur in literature, textbooks and other materials in different configurations and quite frequently, thus it is useful to know how they should be understood. Often they are used in common language interchangeably, which may be confusing. For example, “hazard” according to some dictionaries is understood as “danger or risk”.
  • The frequently used definition in occupational health and safety says that hazard is any source of potential damage, harm or adverse health effects.
  • In some cases the resulting harm is referred to as the hazard instead of the actual source of the hazard.
  • For example, hepatitis might be called a “hazard” but, in general, the virus causing hepatitis would be considered the “hazard” or “hazardous biological agent”.
  • The hazards can come from different sources, like e.g. things, processes, materials, behaviours, etc.
  • A knife (hazard) can be a cause of a cut (harm), hepatitis B virus (hazard) can be a cause of hepatitis B (harm), wet floor (hazard) can be a cause of slips and falls (harms).
  • Risk is the chance or probability of something.
  • In relation to the topic of this training, the term that would be interesting for us is “occupational risk”.
  • It has been defined by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work as “long-term or short-term hazard experienced in the workplace that may lead to damage, including chemical hazards, biological hazards, psychosocial hazards and physical hazards”.
  • The other definition of occupational risk states that it is a “likelihood that an injury or illness will occur as a result of exposure to workplace hazards”.
  • According to “ISO 45001:2018(en) Occupational health and safety management systems — Requirements with guidance for use”:
    • risk is an “effect of uncertainty”,
    • occupational health and safety risk is a “combination of the likelihood of occurrence of a work-related hazardous event(s) or exposure(s) and the severity of injury and ill health that can be caused by the event(s) or exposure(s)
    • hazard is a “source with a potential to cause injury and ill health
    • injury and ill health is an “adverse effect on the physical, mental or cognitive condition of a person
  • EU-OSHA informs on the difference between occupational hazard and occupational risk as follows: “A hazard is something that can cause harm, e.g. electricity, chemicals, working up a ladder, noise, a keyboard, a bully at work, stress, etc. A risk is the chance, high or low, that any hazard will actually cause somebody harm.”
  • In common understanding sometimes occupational hazards can be referred to as occupational risk factors.
  • The last term which is to be explained here is “health threat”. It can be simply defined as a “condition, agent or incident which may cause, directly or indirectly, ill health”.