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Simplified Risk Assessment

The use of risk assessment principles is key to an effective and successful safety program. This article provides a basic introduction to risk assessment by utilizing a simple example involving a car crash. When these simple elements are introduced into a work place, accidents reduce and the severity of the accidents also reduce.

As companies enhance their HSE (safety, health, and environmental programs) the concept of risk management will be emphasized time and again as the key to successful HSE performance. There is much confusion about “risk” and “hazards” and whether something is “safe”. The short article is meant to introduce you to the subject.


We hear the phrase all the time, “risk”. What does it mean and can we do anything about reducing risk?
This article will address these issues.

Risk management experts define risk as follows:


Likelihood is defined as the number of times a hazardous event can occur over time period. For
example, how often will a car be involved in an accident on your main street this year? Is it likely, or
possible, or unlikely?

Consequences are the likely results of the event. For example, a high-speed car collision almost
always results in serious property damage and injuries.


Let’s look at an example we are all familiar with, that is, driving a car.

Driving a car is essentially a hazardous activity, and as such a moving car is really a HAZARD. The car
becomes more hazardous when it is driving faster.

As a simple definition, hazard is an object, physical effect, or condition with potential to cause damage or harm to you, your passengers, other road users and/or cars.

If someone just collides into you from the rear at low speed, the result may not be very serious.. There
might not be any damage or injuries. This event is an incident and did not develop into an accident.

An incident is an event or chain of events, which has caused or could have caused injury, illness, and/or
damage. An accident is an incident, which has resulted in injury, illness and/or damage. Thus, all
accidents are incidents but not all incidents develop into accidents.

In the above car example, lets say that instead of a low speed collision with no damage, someone crashes into you from the rear at high speed and the CONSEQUENCES are much worse. Your car may be converted into an irreparable wreck, and you or your passengers could end up in hospital or even be
killed. The incident has developed into a real accident. Thus, Consequence (or severity) is the loss that
can be inflicted if the accident occurs.


While driving, a good driver will remain alert for dangers (threats) in front, behind and on both sides of
the car such as:

• people crossing the road,
• other cars which suddenly change lane,
• cars in front who suddenly brake, or
• cars which pay no attention to red traffic lights.

THREATS are circumstances or conditions, which can contribute to an incident. When driving a car,
there will be threats all around. Even your own car can present threats if it is in unsafe condition (e.g. your brakes don’t work well, have dirty windows/mirrors). The driver will be a threat if he/she is unfit to drive, e.g. sleepy or under influence of alcohol/drugs


As one does not want to rely on luck to prevent having an car accident, one can do a number of things to reduce the risks of being involved in the accident such as:

• Take driving lessons and passing a driving exam.
• Ensure that the car is in good condition e.g. the brakes are good working condition, the tyres are safe,
and the windows and mirrors are clean.
• Maintain fitness to drive, e.g. no alcohol/drugs or drive when sleepy.
• Wear safety belts (making sure that passengers are also strapped in, both front and rear seats)

All of these things are preventative measures (barriers) which can reduce the chance of getting hurt or the
car being damaged.


As mentioned earlier, barriers can prevent a hazardous situation from developing into an incident (or
worse an accident).

However, when the accident does occur, a second type of barrier exists which can limit or reduce the
actual damage (consequences).

For example, a car crashes into a parked car while traveling at 34 kph. Both driver and passenger were
wearing seat belts, and thus suffered little if any injuries. The use of seat belts served as a barrier to
consequences. Now let us suppose that the driver inside the parked car suffered serious injuries. An
ambulance was called and trained medics arrived within minutes, which saved the man life. Having
emergency response equipment and trained personnel available is an example of a barrier to consequence. In this case, the passenger might have died if there had been a long delay in treatment.


Almost everything we do involves some risk. There are threats, which we can avoid, and there are barriers we can utilize to help avoid accidents. Another type of barrier may reduce or limit damage or injury after the accident. By recognizing the threats and using barriers we can prevent accidents and reduce losses.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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