Literally the reason why health and safety guidelines are written, if today’s word does anything or has any impact, it should definitely inspire us to be more careful. In many occupations as well as in daily life, there are certain obstacles that we face: some are more severe than others, some are more preventable than others, but they are all part of today’s word, hazard.
Though it can be traced back to the Old French hasard, which is the name of a dice game, the actual origin of the term is unknown, with theories that it originated as an Old Occitan import (azar) of the Arabic word yasara, meaning ‘to play dice’, or the Arabic al-zahr, specifically meaning ‘the die/dice itself’. It is precisely this game that introduced the word into English, with the first mention coming around 1300 in the romance work, Havelok the Dane, where it is written: “Game of mine, of hazard ok, Romans reading on the book.”
Considering that many aspects of any dice game are actions of chance, it’s rather interesting that, from the name of the game, the word hazard began to be applied to outside instances in daily life. Not necessarily indicating something specifically negative, this usage, originally from 1340 in the Ayenbite of Inwyt, simply implied the chance or unpredictability of the outcome.
Shifting from a neutral outcome to a negative outcome, hazard had, by the early 1500s, developed the negative-chance connotation that we still mostly associate with the term. First noted in 1524, in a translation of Jacques de Bourbon’s The begynnynge and foundacyon of the holy hospytall (aka The Order of Malta), he states that: “Seeing all his estate entered in strange place… Thinking on the other side, yet taking the town by assault he should love many of his followers… doubting finally the hazard of war.” It is from this use that our term becomes specified, such as the “hazard of war”, a locational hazard, or an occupational hazard.
Further cementing the concept of a locational hazard, we finally see the term beginning to be applied to sporting rules. The original example of this can be seen in Henry Howard’s 1583 book, titled Defensative, which mentions: “Who can tell, within whose hazard fortunes tennis balls will light?” (essentially referencing boundaries). 15 years later, the term would also be applied to billiards, where John Florio’s A Worlde of Wordes note: “Scaduta, a hole or hazard at billiard boord.” Nearly a century-and-a-half later, in 1744, the term was also adopted by golf, when Scots Magazine published The Articles & Laws in Playing at the Golf, with one law mentioning: “To take out your Ball & bringing it behind the hazard and Teeing it.”
Taking these concepts of the word as having boundaries, the concept of chance, and potentially negative outcomes, hazard is definitely a risky word that is often associated with risky work. When it comes to risky work, due to the myriad of environmental hazards (heights, moving objects, noise, etc.), equipment hazards (power tools and electricity), and chemical hazards (asbestos, solvents, etc.), construction sites are often considered to be the most dangerous places, accounting for 1 of every 5 fatal workplace accidents in the EU and, in the US, accounting for 17% of workplace fatalities while only employing 6% of the workforce.
To best deal with these hazards, there are a number of steps that can be taken, such as familiarizing yourself with health and safety protocols, always wearing the necessary protective equipment, and constantly being aware of yourself and your surroundings. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and nobody’s health should be put to a chance role of the dice.