Video: Health and Safety in Experiments

A scientist works in a nuclear power station where the level of ionizing radiation is approximately 2 percent higher than the natural background level. The scientist never works closely with any highly radioactive materials. The scientist continues to work at the power station for several years. An engineer works in a hydroelectric power station that contains large turbines that produce continual high sound levels at frequencies that cannot be effectively blocked by ear protectors. The engineer continues to work at the power station for several years and spends a significant amount of time in proximity to the turbines. Who is more at risk due to their work, the scientist or the engineer? Who faces higher hazard severity due to their work, the scientist or the engineer?

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Video Transcript

A scientist works in a nuclear power station where the level of ionizing radiation is approximately two percent higher than the natural background level. The scientist never works closely with any highly radioactive materials. The scientist continues to work at the power station for several years. An engineer works in a hydroelectric power station that contains large turbines that produce continual high sound levels at frequencies that cannot be effectively blocked by ear protectors. The engineer continues to work at the power station for several years and spends a significant amount of time in proximity to the turbines. Who is more at risk due to their work, the scientist or the engineer? Who faces higher hazard severity due to their work, the scientist or the engineer?

Okay, so, in this question we’ve been given two different, essentially, case studies, one about a scientist who works at the nuclear power station, and another about an engineer who works at a hydroelectric power station. In order to answer the two questions asked, we need to know the difference between risk and hazard severity.

So, let’s start by defining hazard severity and risk. Hazard severity is how adverse, or how bad, the effects of a hazard can be. Well, a hazard is defined as a potential source of damage, harm, or adverse health effects on something or someone. And the hazard severity is basically how bad the effects of that hazard can be.

Risk, however, is defined as the likelihood, or probability, of an adverse outcome due to a hazard. So, basically severity talks about how bad the effects of a hazard would be, whereas, risk looks at how likely that is. So, now that we know this, let’s look back at these two paragraphs and work out who is more at risk, and which one faces a higher hazard severity?

Starting with the scientist, we’ve been told that a scientist works in a nuclear power station. Now in that power station, the level of ionizing radiation is approximately two percent higher than the natural background level. This means that the level of ionizing radiation is not that much higher than background. And as well as this, the scientist never works closely with any highly radioactive materials. We’ve also been told that the scientist continues to work at the power station for several years.

So, what this paragraph is telling us is that the scientist is working in a fairly dangerous environment. In a nuclear power station, there are lots of things that can go wrong. There are very famous cases in the world of nuclear reactors melting down and causing large amounts of damage to the environment around them. People have been killed and affected with radiation poisoning. And surrounding environments have been entirely destroyed by these catastrophic events.

So, from that, we can understand that the severity of the hazard, the hazard being the nuclear power station and the radioactive material within it, the severity of this is very high. Because if something does go wrong, the effects will be really very adverse. They can cause a great deal of damage and a lot of death. So, we could say that the nuclear power station is a hazard where the severity is really high.

However, because the level of ionizing radiation is only approximately two percent higher than natural background level, and the scientist never works closely with any highly radioactive materials, the scientist is not very much exposed to the hazard.

Now when we talk about risk, one of the factors that affects the risk of a hazard is the exposure to a hazard. In other words, even the most dangerous thing in the world can not affect you if you’ve not been exposed to it. And from the paragraph, we can tell that the scientist isn’t really exposed to the hazard. Hence, we can say that even though the scientist is working with a high-severity hazard, the risk is relatively low.

We can compare this to the engineer. We’ve been told that the engineer works in a hydroelectric power station that contained large turbines that produce continual high sound levels at frequencies that cannot be effectively blocked by ear protectors. We’ve also been told that the engineer continues to work at the power station for several years and spends a significant amount of time in proximity to the turbines. So, let’s, once again, assess the severity and the risk, but this time for the engineer working with the hazard.

So, the hazard in this situation is the hydroelectric power station, or more specifically the large turbines and the sound that they produce. They continually produce high sound levels. And the sounds that they produce cannot even effectively be blocked by ear protectors. So, no matter what the engineer does, they are exposed to these sounds continually. And as well as this, they spend a significant amount of time in proximity to the turbines. So, the engineer’s exposure to the hazard is high, and, therefore, the risk of something going wrong is high.

And so, we can say that the engineer works with a high-risk hazard. However, if something goes wrong, then what would that be? Well, the engineer is working with high sound levels. And prolonged exposure to high sound levels could lead to damage to the ears or loss of hearing. So, although that’s a pretty bad thing to happen, it is not quite as bad as the potential effects of a nuclear power station meltdown.

And hence, we will say that the engineer is working with a hazard with low severity. Of course, the severity of this hazard is by no means really low. It’s just lower than the severity of the nuclear power station. And so, for our purposes, we’ll say it’s low severity.

So, now we can answer the questions. Firstly, who is more at risk due to their work, the scientist or the engineer? Well, we decided it was the engineer. This is mainly due to the prolonged and continuous exposure to these high sound levels that cannot be effectively blocked by ear protectors.

But then, for the second question, who faces higher hazard severity due to their work, the scientist or the engineer? Well, the answer to that is the scientist. This is because the effects of something going wrong in a nuclear power station are much more likely to be worse than the effects of something going wrong in a hydroelectric power station. And hence, we’ve assessed the severity and the risk of these two hazards.

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