Select Committee on European Communities Second Report

Principles of risk assessment and risk management

43.  Risk assessment is the scientifically-based process which attempts to identify and characterise hazards[82], and the likelihood of hazard occurring, risk[83]. It deals with the probability of an event causing a potentially undesirable effect. It attempts to be quantitative, and one of the criticisms of the approach taken in managing the risk for the release of genetically modified organisms is that the assessment is qualitative[84] only. Dr Gliddon, of the University of Wales, identified a structure for risk assessment and suggested that risk assessment was feasible even where knowledge was limited. It involved the identification of hazards; estimation of their magnitude; estimation of the frequency of their occurrence; and evaluation of the risks[85]. Risk is never zero, but it can be minimised by taking appropriate precautions (risk management); for example, to limit exposure to a harmful substance or situation[86]. "The goal of risk management is scientifically sound, cost-effective, integrated actions that reduce or prevent risks while taking into account social, cultural, ethical, political and legal considerations"[87]. The United States Presidential/Congressional Commission on risk assessment and risk management[88] recommended that the process of risk management should include the following: define the problem and put it in context; analyse the risks associated with the problem in context; examine options for addressing the risks; make decisions about which options to implement; take actions to implement the decisions; and conduct an evaluation of the actions' results. This procedure should be used in collaboration with stakeholders and repeated if new information arises that changes the need for or nature of risk management.

82  Hazard is defined as the situation that in particular circumstances could lead to harm. This is taken from the 1992 report of the Royal Society: "Risk: analysis, perception and management"; a definition accepted by the Science and Technology Committee in their report on biotechnology (7th Report (1992-93, HL 80, para. 5.26). Back
83  Risk is defined as the probability that a particular adverse effect occurs within a stated period of time or results from a particular challenge. Sources as previous footnote. Back
84  Quantitative: nine out of ten cats prefer smoked salmon. Qualitative: cats prefer smoked salmon. Back
85  Dr Gliddon, p 340. Back
86  In American usage, until the Presidential/Congressional report, risk assessment was the component of the overall process devoted to the calculation of risk and risk analysis was the overall process including risk assessment. In Europe (as in Australia) risk assessment is understood to be the overall process, c.f. T. Beer: "Environmental Risk Assessment: an Australian perspective", 1995. Back
87  Presidential/Congressional Commission on Risk Assessment and Risk Management: "Framework for Environmental Health Risk Management", January 1997, p 1. Back
88   Ibid. Back

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