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Disaster Risks Reduction: Why Hazard Identification Should Be a Central Science

Endy is a DRMDS student and had worked extensively in hazard identification, hazard and risk assessment and vulnerability studies.

Hazards and the Environment

Hazard is any situation, object, person or event that poses some level of harm, a potential threat or risk to life or health of an individual, a community, their property and/or their environment as well as means of livelihood. Most hazards are dormant or potential with only a theoretical probability of causing harm. However, once hazard becomes "active," it can create an emergency situation and/or disaster.

More directly, a hazard is a source of potential harm or negative outcome from past, current, or future exposures. The term hazardous refers to a condition, circumstance, or combination of factors that constitute a substantial risk of or capable of causing injury to persons or damage to property as well as the environment. It is typically used to describe dangerous substances and materials including flammables, explosives, irritants, sensitizers, acids, and caustics, even when such materials may be relatively harmless in diluted concentrations.

A hazardous waste is any discarded material containing substances known to be toxic, mutagenic, carcinogenic, or teratogenic to humans or other life forms. They may be ignitable, corrosive, explosive, or highly reactive; alone or with other materials. A hazardous waste is always a hazardous material, although a hazardous material is not always a hazardous waste. Hazards whether occupational or environmental can be classified into physical, chemical, biological, radiological or radioactive and electrical.

Other hazards classes include psychological (conditions that cause major emotional discomfort such as odour, heat and emotional upset) ergonomic (which cause injury to muscles due to bad posture), hydrological, geological and/or mechanical.

disaster-risks-reduction-why-hazard-identification-should-be-a-central-science

Relationship between hazard and risk

Hazard had been defined as anything with potential to cause harm. Risk, on the other hand, is the likelihood of harm (in defined circumstances, and usually qualified by some statement of the severity of the harm). The relationship between hazard and risk must be treated very cautiously. If all other factors are equal—especially the exposures and the people subject to them—then the risk or associated risk is proportional to the hazard. It can also be defined in terms of likelihood of hazard occurrence and severity of injury or harm caused by such occurrence.

That’s Risk = Hazards likelihood of occurrence × Severity of harm caused by manifestation of such hazard. From the above, a hazard with high likelihood of occurrence may have low risk if the severity of harm emanating from such occurrence is low and vice versa.

Hazards

To live without the presence of hazard is the miracle the world is looking for. To take notice early enough, and prevent hazardous manifestation is the only solution the world have now.

— Endurance AUF Noble

Hazard identification and associated risk assessment

Hazard identification is the recognition of undesired elements and/or events that can lead to the materialization of accidents, emergencies and disaster as well as the mechanism through which these undesirable events could occur.

Risk is, at minimum, a two-dimensional concept involving: one, the possibility of an adverse outcome, and two, the uncertainty over the occurrence, timing, or magnitude of the outcome of an adverse effect. If any of these two attributes are absent, then there is no risk, but if both are present, then there is risk. Another term associated with hazard is risk assessment.

According to Ramesh et al. (2017) risk assessment is a systematic approach for describing and quantifying the risks associated with hazardous substances, processes, actions, or events. Risk assessment method or procedures can be defined as any self-contained systematic practice carried out as part of a risk assessment – that is, any procedure that is utilized to help generate a probability distribution that a health or environmental risk to lives or properties and/or possibility of occurring is consequence.

Risk assessment may include vulnerability assessment, which is the act of assessing or evaluating how vulnerable the ‘at risk’ communities, environment or individuals are to risks posed by a hazard or a hazardous process. In other word, risk assessment is the process of evaluating the risks potential arising from a hazard, taking into account the adequacy of any controls measures and deciding whether or not the risks is acceptable.

Hazardous process is any process or activity in relation to an environment or industry specified in the First Schedule where, raw materials used therein, intermediates, finished products, by-products, wastes, or effluents thereof would lead to harmful consequence; unless special care is taken to avert the occurrence of such harmful effects. Hazardous process can cause material impairment to the health of persons engaged in or connected therewith, or result in the pollution of the general environment.

Hazard Identification Risk Assessment is a process of defining, describing and characterizing hazards according to their probability, regularity, harshness and evaluating adverse consequences, including potential losses and injuries. A risk assessment provides fact-based evidences required for strategic planning to reduce losses due to the risk posed by identified hazards. The ISO Risk Management Principles and Guidelines standardize risk assessment into four parts: risk identification, risk analysis, risk evaluation, and risk treatment.

The first step to risk identification is identifying all hazards and their potential impact or consequences on environment, properties or people. A local risk assessment such as embarking upon hazard identification must provide sufficient information and/or data to enable the jurisdiction or environmental authority identify and prioritize appropriate mitigation measures to reduce losses from identified hazards.

In the overall, hazard control means the process of implementing measures to reduce the risk associated with a hazard and it is very important to disaster risks reduction and management as well as environmental protections.

Hazard Identification and Disaster Risk Reduction

Risk Categorization

The characterization of risk has both quantitative and qualitative components. According to breeding (2011), the type of hazard and the adverse outcomes associated with such hazard are important qualitative features of "risk." Thus, a specified probability of developing eczema dermatitis (an inflammation of the skin) would be considered a lesser "risk" when compared to an identical probability of developing melanoma (a particularly severe form of skin cancer). However, one needs to look more closely to be able to characterize "risk," as distinct from simply "hazard."

The degree of exposure is an important determinant of risk. Thus, a low exposure to a highly hazardous material may result in a low risk. Conversely, a high exposure to something of very low hazard may result in a moderate or even high risk. Every reasonable attempt must be made to quantify exposure level in order to attribute a measure of risk to a hazard. The probability of an adverse outcome (likelihood of a certain risk) can be expressed in various ways, but the idea behind risk categorization is to establish whether the risk posed by a particular hazard is acceptable or not.

disaster-risks-reduction-why-hazard-identification-should-be-a-central-science

Risk Perception

There can be vast differences in how risks are perceived by scientists on the one hand and by the lay public on the other. Several factors can influence this differential perception or interpretation, including:

  • Personal experience of the adverse effect/event;
  • Social cultural background and beliefs;
  • The ability to exercise control over a particular risk;
  • The extent to which information is gained from different sources (media and so on);
  • Other considerations (people have tendency to overestimate or underestimate risk).

Individual or community perception of hazard is important to risk acceptance/tolerance or aversion level. Capacity also plays a major role in risk perception. But in the overall, risk perception is the way or ways a community, organization or an individual sees a risk.

disaster-risks-reduction-why-hazard-identification-should-be-a-central-science

Risk Acceptance and/or Aversion

Although the scientific community has a very important role to play in measuring risks and in presenting this information or data in clear manner to the public in all ways possible, with appropriate cautions about uncertainty, it remains the responsibility of society to determine what is tolerable and acceptable based on social, political, cultural, and even economic considerations and what is not.

Many hazards cannot be eradicated in the sense that they are completely gotten rid of. Therefore, to reduce risk, more often than not, becomes a question of reducing exposure. The become the fundamental goal of disaster risks reduction.

In some countries, the goal for reducing occupational or environmental risks to health is to achieve a situation where "exposure should be controlled to a level to which nearly all the population could be exposed day after day, without adverse effects on health."

In practices, it is important to identify hazards, assess the specific risks of such hazards, and using the findings to select and implement control measures appropriate to reduce the risk or risks to acceptable levels, in order to support safety of lives and properties as well as productive work outcomes.

If hazard identification is treated as a central science in disaster risks reduction, safety of lives and properties will be prioritized and work output will be improved.

Further Readings

Breeding, D. C. (2011). What is hazardous? Occupational Health & Safety, 80(7), 24-26.

Ramesh, R., Prabu, M., Magibalan, S., & Senthilkumar, P. (2017). Hazard identification and risk assessment in automotive industry. International Journal of Chemical Technology Research, 10(4), 352-358.

Rout B. K & Sikdar, B. K. (2018). Hazard Identification, Risk Assessment, and Control Measures as an Effective Tool of Occupational Health Assessment of Hazardous Process in an Iron Ore Pelletizing Industry. Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 21(2), 56–76.

Singh, G. P., Choudhary, R. P., Vardhan, H., Aruna, M. & Akolkar, A. B. (2015). Iron Ore Pelletization Technology and its Environmental Impact Assessment in Eastern Region of India - A Case Study. Procedia Earth Planetary Sciences, 11, 582–97.

Yaneira, E. S., Kumar (Chris), I. & Jeremy, G. (2014). Bow-Tie Diagrams in Downstream Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment. Process Safety Progress, 33, 26–35.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2020 Ajodo Endurance Uneojo

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