Why Definition of a Hazard Matters
Accuracy is extremely important.
Much of the bureaucracy of safety management systems depend on correct and specific understanding of safety concepts. Misunderstanding definitions in SMS is synonymous to misunderstanding what a safety element is, and can compromise how that safety element is:
- Documented; and
- Accounted for.
While a definition is just way to understand safety elements, it’s always important to remember that such safety concepts;
- Are real, identifiable “things” in your environment that can pose danger to your safety.
So, long story short, definitions matter because they are the filter with which we assess our environment.
Definition of Hazard: What Is a Hazard?
Hazards are one of the core concern of the safety management system. A hazard:
- Is a condition, such as an object, situation, circumstance, that poses an unacceptable level of danger;
- Occurs once in the safety mishap lifecycle;
- Can lead directly to risk occurrence (i.e., safety mishap, accident, etc.) if not mitigated; and
- Arise from hazard mechanisms, such as initiating actions and hazardous sources.
Understanding what a hazard is involves understanding these three points. As a reference, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) defines a hazard as, “A condition that could foreseeably cause or contribute to an aircraft accident…” (14 CFR § 5.5).
Understanding what is a hazard also involves identifying what a hazard is not:
- Benign objects (birds, mountains, people), which are hazardous sources;
- Safety mishaps, which are another way of saying risk occurrences;
- Damages, which are a product of risk occurrence; and
- Dangerous actions, which are associated with initiating mechanisms.
In the actual operational environment, with real situations, people may disagree as to what point was the dangerous condition.
Role of Hazard in Safety Issue Lifecycle
All employees in a safety program should understand the basic framework of the life cycle of safety incidents. Why? Because it will help the hazard identification process and build a very strong hazard reporting culture.
Here is the basic process of safety mishaps:
- Hazardous sources exist, which are the starting point for safety concerns and are interchangeably called root causes;
- Initiating mechanisms interact with hazardous sources and increase threat level to targets such as people, aircraft, etc.;
- Lack of identification of rising danger allows hazard to “actualize”;
- Hazard occurs, whereby the operational environment reaches an unacceptable level of safety;
- Breakdown of risk controls/lack of response to mitigate hazard into an acceptable range; and
- Risk occurrence happens, incurring damages.
Safety concerns can be largely mitigated at any point leading up to risk occurrence. However, hazard occurrence will be most obvious “sign” that something bad is about to happen. For this reason, it’s critical that employees have a solid understanding of what a hazard is.
Examples of Hazards
The best way to demonstrate what is a hazard is to simply provide some examples. Here are some examples of hazard occurrence, as they all demonstrate unacceptable level of danger:
- Runway incursion;
- Operating in close proximity to wildlife;
- Lack of proper traffic guidance (i.e., ropes, cones, etc.) from airport to aircraft entrance;
- Incorrectly calibrated instruments;
- Runway lights that are not correct temperature or brightness;
- Unreliable safety data (such as due to improper data entry);
- Airport computer server and backup server existing in same location;
- And so on.
This list could go on and on, but the primary similarity between all of these points is that they are a condition of unacceptable level of safety.
What Is Hazard Identification
Hazard identification is actually quite a bit more flexible than it is often given credit for. It does not simply mean identifying a hazard when it occurs. To be sure, this is one element of hazard identification.
However, hazard identification also includes:
- Identifying growing threat of operational environment;
- Identifying unsafe interactions (i.e., initiating mechanisms) with hazardous sources; and
- Identifying an unsafe situation and understanding how to mitigate it.
The formal process of hazard identification also includes hazard reporting. This simply includes reporting safety concerns.
How well do you know hazards, risk, and the safety mishap lifecycle? Test your knowledge with this free test:
Published October 2017. Last updated May 2021.