Hazard – definition and meaning

A hazard is a risk, danger, chance, or probability. In all cases, the meanings relate to unpleasant things occurring. As a verb, the word means to say something in a tentative way. For example, if I say “I hazard a guess,” it means I tentatively offer a guess. The verb may also mean to put something at risk of becoming lost. For example, “Horse-racing is too risky a business on which to hazard money.”

Hazards are things which might be dangerous to your health, safety, reputation, plans, etc.

The following newspaper headline – ‘The hazards of crossing the road’ – refers to the possible dangers we face when crossing the road. For example, we could be hit by a car or knocked down by another pedestrian.

Merriam-Webster has the following definitions of the term:

“1. A game of chance like craps played with two dice. 2. A source of danger. ”

“3. The effect of unpredictable and unanalyzable forces in determining events. 4. A chance event (accident).

Hazard definition
There are many different types of hazards. In fact, nowhere is hazard-free.

Hazard – insurance

In the world of insurance, the term refers to a situation or condition that increases the chance of loss. Specifically, a loss for the insured.

Physical hazards are things in the environment that could alter the probability of a loss. The term also includes things in the environment that may alter the severity of a loss.

For the insurance companies, ‘alter’ usually refers to ‘increase.’

The term ‘moral hazards’ refers to the ethical conduct or attitude of the insured. In most cases, these hazards are unavoidable. Therefore, the insurer typically does not insure the risk.

Hazard vs. risk

Although the two terms have similar meanings and we often use them interchangeably, they are not the same. In fact, regarding risk assessment, risks and hazards are very different.

Hazards are things that can cause damage to, for example, people, animals, property, or the environment.

Risk refers to the probability that exposure to a hazard will occur and lead to a negative consequence.

In other words, a hazard poses no risk if you do not expose yourself to it.

Wikipedia says the following regarding risks and hazards:

“Hazards can be dormant or potential, with only a theoretical probability of harm. An event that is caused by interaction with a hazard is called an incident.”

“The likely severity of the undesirable consequences of an incident associated with a hazard, combined with the probability of this occurring, constitute the associated risk.”

Classifying hazards

We can classify hazards in many different ways. For example, we may specify the hazard’s origin. Perhaps there is stored energy which can cause damage if that energy gets out.

Stored energy exists in many forms, such as mechanical, thermal, radioactive, electrical, or chemical.

We sometimes classify hazards according to situations. Examples include oxygen-depleted atmospheres, repetitive movements, and protruding or low-hanging objects.


A natural hazard is an extreme event. This event occurs naturally and causes harm to property, humans, possessions, etc.

For example, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and extremely cold or hot weather are natural hazards. Floods are also natural hazards.


Something that humans cause is anthropogenic, i.e., it is man-made. Therefore, anthropogenic hazards are unpleasant or dangerous things that we cause.

For example, murder, civil disorder, terrorism, and war are anthropogenic hazards. We also include some fires, industrial spillages, and power outages in this category.


Technological hazards are also related to things that humans cause. However, the term is more specific.

Examples include nuclear radiation, dam failures, technological accidents, chemical spills, some explosions, and industrial pollution.

According to PrepareCenter.org:

“Technological hazards are an increasing source of risk to people and their environment.”

“This is an effect of the globalization of production, an increase of industrialization and a certain level of risk of accidents connected with production, processes, transportation and waste management.”

Video – Hazard and Risk

This Risk Bites video looks at the difference between hazards and risks.