Types of risks

Risk may have positive or negative outcomes or may simply result in uncertainty. Therefore, risks may be considered to be related to an opportunity or a loss or the presence of uncertainty for an organization. Every risk has its own characteristics that require particular management or analysis. In this book, as in the Guide 73 definition, risks are divided into three categories:

• hazard (or pure) risks;

• control (or uncertainty) risks;

• opportunity (or speculative) risks.

It is important to note that there is no 'right' or 'wrong' subdivision of risks. Readers will encounter other subdivisions in other texts and these may be equally appropriate. It is, perhaps, more common to find risks described as two types, pure or speculative. Indeed, there are many debates about risk management terminology. Whatever the theoretical discussions, the most important issue is that an organization adopts the risk classification system that is most suitable for its own circumstances.

There are certain risk events that can only result in negative outcomes. These risks are hazard risks or pure risks, and these may be thought of as operational or insurable risks. In general, organizations will have a tolerance of hazard risks and these need to be managed within the levels of tolerance of the organization. A good example of a hazard risk faced by many organizations is that of theft.

There are certain risks that give rise to uncertainty about the outcome of a situation. These can be described as control risks and are frequently associated with project management. In general, organizations will have an aversion to control risks. Uncertainties can be associated with the benefits that the project produces, as well as uncertainty about the delivery of the project on time, within budget and to specification. The management of control risks will often be undertaken in order to ensure that the outcome from the business activities falls within the desired range.

At the same time, organizations deliberately take risks, especially marketplace or commercial risks, in order to achieve a positive return. These can be considered as opportunity or speculative risks, and an organization will have a specific appetite for investment in such risks.

The application of risk management tools and techniques to the management of hazard risks is the best and longest-established branch of risk management, and much of this text will concentrate on hazard risks. There is a hierarchy of controls that apply to hazard risks and this will be discussed in a later chapter. Hazard risks are associated with a source of potential harm or a situation with the potential to undermine objectives in a negative way. Hazard risks are the most common risks associated with organizational risk management, including occupational health and safety programmes.

Control risks are associated with unknown and unexpected events. They are sometimes referred to as uncertainty risks and they can be extremely difficult to quantify. Control risks are often associated with project management. In these circumstances, it is known that the events will occur, but the precise consequences of those events are difficult to predict and control. Therefore, the approach is based on minimizing the potential consequences of these events.

There are two main aspects associated with opportunity risks. There are risks/dangers associated with taking an opportunity, but there are also risks associated with not taking the opportunity. Opportunity risks may not be visible or physically apparent, and they are often financial in nature. Although opportunity risks are taken with the intention of having a positive outcome, this is not guaranteed. Opportunity risks for small businesses include moving a business to a new location, acquiring new property, expanding a business and diversifying into new products.