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Occupational Risk

What Does Occupational Risk Mean?

The term “occupational risk” refers to likelihood that an injury or illness will occur as a result of exposure to workplace hazards. The idea of occupational risk exists upon two axes: The first is the probability that a given injury or illness will occur, and the second is that injury or illness’ potential severity. Thus, two injuries that are equally likely but not equally severe would pose different levels of workplace risk.

In modern OHS contexts, when evaluating the level of risk within a given workplace, both actual instances of an injury occurring and “near misses” in which it almost occurred are used to evaluate the level of risk in a workplace.

Safeopedia Explains Occupational Risk

The management of occupational risk is the central focus of modern occupational health and safety practices, regardless of whether those practices emerge from regulatory, scientific, or corporate contexts.

Approaches to risk management differ depending on the particular nature and interests of the organization being considered. Corporate OHS initiatives tend to prioritize safety risks that are also cost risks, while government regulatory OHS initiatives will prioritize the most urgent health and safety risks but refrain from passing regulations that might be overly costly to businesses.

Scientific and academic OHS initiatives are the least likely to consider the costs of implementing a given OHS plan when considering how to reduce risk. This divergence in approaches to risk management is illustrated by the difference between OSHA’s chemical exposure limits and the exposure limits put forward by NIOSH.

OSHA, the primary OHS regulator in the United States, must consider business interests when developing regulations, including exposure limits. NIOSH, the OHS arm of the US Center for Disease Control, develops voluntary exposure limits solely based on scientific principles. Owing to these differing mandates, OSHA’s Permissible Exposure Limits are much higher than NIOSH’s Recommended Exposure Limits. This difference in approaches can be illustrated simply as follows:

NIOSH: Mitigate risk as much as reasonably possible.
OSHA: Mitigate risk as much as reasonably practicable.

The practice of risk mitigation is primarily defined by the use of the Hierarchy of Hazard Controls. A concept which orders how risk mitigation activities should take place, first by eliminating the source of the risk (i.e. the hazard) if possible, and lastly by using personal protective equipment to protect individual workers from being exposed to it. In most advanced jurisdictions, employers have a general legal duty to identify and mitigate workplace risks as much as they are reasonably able to.


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