Risk Vs. Hazard: The Link Between Hazmat and Shark Week

Posted on 7/26/2019 by Roger Marks

Shark Week is a good time to think about the difference between hazard and risk.

The hazards posed by sharks are very real—they’re massive fish, armed with rows and rows of teeth, and built to tear their prey to shreds.

But the risk you take when you swim in the ocean is different. Your chances of getting attacked by a shark are 1 in 3.7 million, according to the International Shark Attack File.

When it comes to materials that can ignite, explode, or escape in transit, hazardous materials professionals understand the risks and work diligently to mitigate them, so that the materials present as little of a hazard as possible.

What Is a Hazard? What Is a Risk?

"Hazard"—with respect to hazmat safety—means a “condition with the potential of causing injuries to personnel, damage to equipment or structures, loss of material, or reduction of ability to perform a prescribed function."  

“Risk,” on the other hand, is an assessment that considers both the severity and the probability the possible consequences of a hazard.

We assess risk in these terms every day, even if we don’t know we’re doing it. When we swim in the ocean, we’re surrounded by hazards such as jellyfish, rip currents, and yes—even sharks. However, there are beach safety measures and swimming rules that dramatically reduce the probability of running into these hazards.

Moreover, we have lifeguards armed with first-aid training to reduce the severity of an accident if one should occur. For these reasons, we don’t generally view swimming close to shore as a high-risk activity.

If we only considered the hazard that sharks pose—and not the risk of an attack—we’d never go in the ocean.

Risk and Hazard for Hazmat Shippers

The same principles apply to shipping hazardous materials. These materials provide incredible value to the people of the world—from energy to medicine to everyday products—and not shipping them simply isn’t an option.

Instead, hazmat professionals do everything possible to contain and communicate the hazards posed by materials—by training employees, packing products properly in authorized packaging, affixing markings and labels, separating incompatible materials, providing emergency response information, and more.

The question isn’t, “Why do we ship such a risky product?” The right question is, “What are the risks, and what steps are necessary to limit the hazard?”

Incidents Do Happen

Though they’re rare, both shark attacks and hazardous materials incidents do happen. When hazardous materials are released or spilled, employees should know what to do—whether it happens in transportation or on the facility floor.

The 2-hour HAZWOPER Awareness Training provides the annually required Level 1 awareness HAZWOPER training for employees who are responsible for sounding alarms and/or evacuating in the event of a hazardous substance release. This online course satisfies the classroom-based competency training as part of initial or refresher HAZWOPER training. Because it’s online, you can even start, pause, and come back to the course at any time, from any computer, tablet, or mobile device. 

Tags: hazard, hazardous materials, hazmat, HAZWOPER, risk, shark, shark week, shipping

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