Health Risk Assessment (HRA)

Definition - What does Health Risk Assessment (HRA) mean?

A health risk assessment (HRA) is a type of hazard risk assessment that focuses specifically on potential hazards to human health and the level of risk those hazards pose.

The assessed health risk of a given hazard is a key consideration in determining the exposure limits and safety controls that must be implemented in order to reduce risk to an acceptable level. In many jurisdictions and industries, health risk assessments—or broader risk assessments that include assessments of health risk—are a mandatory part of employers’ health and safety obligations.

Safeopedia explains Health Risk Assessment (HRA)

Risk assessments include both an estimate of the probability that a hazard could cause harm to human health and an evaluation of the potential severity of the damage that could be caused by the hazard. Depending on the jurisdiction and the industry under consideration, health risk assessments may be addressed either as discrete workplace risk assessments or folded into a comprehensive workplace hazard and risk assessment.

Health risk assessments can be considered separately from safety risk assessments. Safety assessments consider the risk posed by potential sources of immediate injury and bodily trauma in a workplace, whereas health risk assessments consider how chemical, biological, and ergonomic hazards may cause harm to bodily functions or physical integrity, with that harm often occurring cumulatively over an extended period of time.

Health risk assessments are sometimes considered to be more complex than safety risk assessments because risks to human health are often difficult to pinpoint and may only become evident over time. Furthermore, the health risk posed by a given environmental and substance-driven factor may vary depending on other risk factors that are present in the same environment.

The complexity of understanding the various health risks present in many workplaces often requires the expertise of an industrial hygienist. It is the job of the industrial hygienist to understand the health impact of the various chemicals, radiation sources, and other substances that workers are exposed to on the job. These include the potential impact posed by an interaction between multiple substances, as well as potential health risks posed by prolonged exposure over time.

The health risks posed by potential hazards are often assessed through a rubric or matrix that simultaneously considers both the potential severity of harm and the likelihood of being harmed. For instance, a substance that has a high chance of causing slight harm to workers may be assessed as a low-risk substance, while a substance that has a very low chance to cause extreme harm will be assessed as a high-risk substance.

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