Risks and Hazards

Submitted by the MEOPAR-Lincoln Research Project 

Risks and hazards are two similar, but often confused terms. A hazard is classified as anything that can cause adverse effects or harm to someone or a community. There are three different types of hazards: occupational or safety hazards (which most people are familiar with), including equipment malfunctions or slippery floors; health hazards, such as work stress, air pollution, or bacteria exposure; and natural hazards, such as earthquakes, heatwaves, hail or tornados. 

The chance that a hazard will cause harm is considered the risk—a low risk translating to a low possibility of being hurt. A hazard could also be low risk when the severity of the harm caused is minimal. Your level of risk is also dependent on your likelihood to be exposed to a specific hazard. For example, residents living on top of the Niagara Escarpment are at a lower risk of being flooded by Lake Ontario than those living along the shoreline.

When we think about natural hazards, we used to be talking about events that occurred once in 100 years. But with climate change—this is no longer the case. Heat waves, freezing rain and heavy rainfall are occurring more frequently, often classified as disasters. 

Understanding hazards and their associated risks plays an important role in the development of climate change adaptation strategies. Some disasters, like hurricanes, cannot be avoided. It is at this point that disaster risk reduction becomes the only option. In the case of hurricanes, the best long-term risk reduction strategy may be to avoid building close to the coastline. In the case of existing structures that lay in the path of the storm, the best course of action is to hurricane-proof the dwelling and evacuate. 

Although it’s not always possible, we can reduce our chances of being harmed by natural hazards. Risk reduction strategies have saved lives, which is why it’s crucial that we gain a better understanding of the hazards that can affect us and properly assess their risks. 

Photo Caption: Living along the shore has its risks. This section of Lakeshore Road was patched and with stacked armour stone wall installed after the 2017 floods.