Hazards and Risk

Hazards and risks are two terms that we all have to understand. It’s not necessarily just something for the electrical worker. Hazards are all around us and we all accept some level of risk each and every day but many use these terms without really understanding them. This article will help identify the differences between hazards and risks and provide some insight to how NFPA 70E looks at these two terms.
Merriam Webster tells us that a hazard is “a source of danger”. This same source tells us that “danger” is “exposure or liability to injury, pain, harm, or loss.” If we put these two definitions together we understand that a hazard is a source of exposure or liability to injury, pain, harm, or loss.
Hazards are in fact all around us every day; some we recognize and some we may not. Common hazards in our everyday life include but are not limited to the following:
  • Icy roads and sidewalks
  • Sharp knives with blades exposed
  • Poor brakes on vehicles like cars, motorcycles, trucks and more
  • The slippery floor of a bathtub

These examples present a hazard to individuals. An object itself may not be a hazard until you either place it in a precarious position or modify or use it in some way. Now let’s relate this discussion to the electrical industry.

NFPA 70E defines an electrical hazard as “a dangerous condition such that contact or equipment failure can
result in electric shock, arc flash burn, thermal burn, or arc blast injury.” Some examples of electrical hazards include but are not limited to the following:
  • Exposed energized lugs and terminations
  • Energized enclosures not bonded correctly
  • Unprotected conductors
  • Conductors with damaged insulation
  • Overhead power lines
The electrical worker has to recognize the electrical hazard and also know how to create an electrically safe work condition. The electrically safe work condition exists when the state of the electrical circuit parts have been disconnected from energized parts, locked/tagged in accordance with established standards, tested and verified to be absent of voltage and if necessary temporarily grounded. When the proper steps are
taken, the hazard can be mitigated.
In my opinion we have to separate the hazard from the object. What I mean by that is that the exposed bus of a panelboard itself is not an electrical hazard. When you take a new panelboard or residential loadcenter out of the box in your office and set it on the table or floor there’s no electrical hazard. There are other hazards you have to think about like getting cut on the box or dropping the package on your toe and more but the electrical hazard is not there because there is no energization of the product. The electrical hazard becomes real once that product is installed and connected to a source whether or not that source is turned on or kept off, the potential is there.
On the other side of this coin we have the concept of risk. Here is where words like possibility, chance, and likelihood are used. In addition severity is considered.
Merriam Webster defines risk as the possibility of loss or injury. NFPA 70E, on the other hand, defines risk as “a combination of the likelihood of occurrence of injury or damage to health and the severity of injury or damage
to health that results from a hazard.”
So 70E breaks risk into the combination of these two components:
  1. “...likelihood of occurrence of injury