Greg Paoli

MASc, BEng

Principal Risk Scientist, COO

Joined RSI in 2006

  • Canada

    Country of Residence

Greg Paoli

Personal Introduction

I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering (1991) and a Master’s Degree in Systems Design Engineering (1993), both degrees from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. For my Master’s thesis, I wrote software to capture information on the timing and patterns of ‘firing’ of nerves that trigger muscle contractions measured from surface electromyograms (like an electrocardiogram or EKG, but for skeletal muscles). The software then processed the information using pattern recognition and machine intelligence techniques. The results of the analysis helped clinical neurologists in their diagnosis of neuromuscular diseases.

Following my Master’s Degree, I joined the University of Waterloo’s Institute for Risk Research as Research Manager. In this position, I was exposed to a very diverse set of research projects spanning food safety, climate change impacts on permafrost, the use of software to shutdown nuclear power reactors, exposures of a Hutterite community to dioxins from a vinyl chloride manufacturing facility, and the application of Bayesian networks for probabilistic weight-of-evidence evaluations of carcinogenicity. During this time, I was the Editor and authored several chapters of a book, Climate Change, Uncertainty and Decision-making.

In the early years of my career, I was fortunate to be engaged by scientists at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (based at that time just a few minutes down the road in Guelph, Ontario) to provide assistance in understanding how the concepts of risk assessment, risk management and risk communication would apply to food safety. At that time, Canada was in the processing of signing on to the World Trade Agreement, and one of its key sub-agreements, the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures. This agreement requires that trading countries apply risk analysis as the basis for any restrictions in International trade. As a result of this very early participation in applying risk assessments to foods, I began providing services and training in risk assessment around the world (starting in Australia, and then in the United States). I was elected and served a term as the Chair of the Food and Water Risk Assessment Specialty Group of the Society for Risk Analysis. I served on several committees of the Joint Expert Meetings on Microbial Risk Assessment (JEMRA) convened by the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. I served on a U.S. National Academy of Sciences Committee reviewing a risk assessment of E. coli O157:H7 in Ground Beef conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

During these early years, I eventually left the Institute for Risk Research in 1997 and moved to Ottawa (to be with my wife of now over 20 years). In that transition, I established a small consulting firm, Decisionalysis Risk Consultants, and continued with a similarly diverse set of projects.

In the mid-2000s, I met with Dan Krewski of the University of Ottawa’s McLaughlin Centre for Population Health Risk Assessment and we explored our common interests in risk management. We eventually agreed to conduct a “merger” of sorts, and co-founded Risk Sciences International in 2006. The merger was to combine the consulting operations of Decisionalysis with some of the consulting activities being conducted at the McLaughlin Centre. Almost 15 years later, we have been fortunate to retain significant expertise from these two organizations within RSI.

The risks associated with chemical hazards (from all routes of exposure) have been a consistent focus. My first risk assessment (other than the risks of having neuromuscular diseases) was to study the extent of exposure to dioxin-like compounds of a Hutterite community which shared a fence-line with a Dow Chemical Company vinyl chloride manufacturing facility. This was an interesting study of what appeared to have the potential to be a worst-case scenario due to the combination of the proximity of the plant and the cultural practices of the community, including their being self-sufficient in their harvesting of food, high lipid consumption and relatively extended practice of breastfeeding. This project provided early exposure to the importance of the social science perspectives on risk including risk perception, risk communication, and professional ethics in risk analysis. I had the pleasure of working for many years with Professor William Leiss, and co-authored a book chapter studying the risk controversy associated with radio-frequency electromagnetic fields and mobile phones in his book, In the Chamber of Risks: Understanding Risk Controversies. (https://www.mqup.ca/in-the-chamber-of-risks-products-9780773522466.php).

Another one of my first risk assessment studies was to develop methodology to combine evidence related to cancer from a series of animal bioassay studies and human epidemiology studies from power-frequency electromagnetic fields, an early and novel application of Bayesian Networks. From 2007-2009, I served on a U.S. National Academy of Sciences Committee established to review the risk analysis approaches used by the US Environmental Protection Agency. This committee was formed 25 years after the publication of the NAS’ “Red Book” and its report therefore became known informally as ‘The Silver Book’, or by its formal title, Science and Decisions: Advancing Risk Assessment. https://www.nap.edu/catalog/12209/science-and-decisions-advancing-risk-assessment. (I was the lead-author of Chapter 3, “The Design of Risk Assessments”). A few years later, from 2012 to 2014, I had the pleasure to serve on another NAS Committee which published the report, A Framework to Guide the Selection of Chemical Alternatives (https://www.nap.edu/catalog/18872/a-framework-to-guide-selection-of-chemical-alternatives). This committee tackled the still very difficult task of fostering the choice of safer chemicals, while avoiding the growing concern and evidence of “regrettable substitutions.” (I was the lead author of Chapter 6, Comparative Exposure Assessment, and Chapter 9, Integration of Evidence to Identify Safer Alternatives). Later, I also served a three-year term on the Scientific Advisory Committee for Health Canada’s Chemicals Management Plan. Recently, I have been collaborating with Weihsueh Chiu of Texas A&M University to advance the work of the WHO International Programme on Chemical Safety in the harmonization of chemical dose-response assessment, as called for in the Silver Book.

Greg Paoli: Current Focus

As RSI’s Principal Risk Scientist and COO, Greg Paoli is currently working with a broad spectrum of clients in the public and private sectors, with the greatest emphasis on the development of new approaches to transform regulatory systems to be more “risk-based” at multiple levels: how senior decision-makers process risk information and make the “tough choices” in regulating health and safety, how an organization can optimize its resources across a diverse mandate to maximize total “portfolio-level” risk reduction, and how to operationalize key resources like the scheduling of inspections when faced with thousands of inspection targets, but not enough resources to inspect all of them.

While food safety and chemical safety continue to be an important part of his work, he has also been fortunate to gain a deep understanding of a very wide variety of risks borne by the public or the public interest. He has also shifted from focussing on specific risk issues on behalf of his clients to addressing the organization-wide capacity to conduct risk assessment and developing enabling technologies to allow for more robust risk assessment work within the client organizations. He was particularly fortunate to work with Public Safety Canada and the Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) in the development and application of the All-Hazards Risk Assessment Methodology for Whole-of-Government application of Emergency Management. During the same period, he was working with the Canadian Conservation Institute in applying risk management methods to the preservation of cultural property with hazards ranging from theft, to sunlight and humidity ruining paintings, to toxic ink destroying the very documents that record history.

One example of an organization-enabling technological achievement has been the development of FDA-iRISK (with RSI colleagues Todd Ruthman, Hong Duan and Emma Hartnett, and colleagues Yuhuan Chen, Regis Pouillot, Jane van Doren and Sherri Dennis from the US Food and Drug Administration). This technology allows food safety professionals from all over the world to develop robust, rapid risk assessments ranging from simple models to highly complex models including quantitative characterization of natural variability and epistemic uncertainty (applying so-called 2-Dimensional Monte Carlo simulation). In addition, this tool has the capacity to span microbiological, chemical, allergenic and nutritional aspects of food safety. This tool was chosen as one of six finalists for the HHSInnovates awards within the Department of Health and Human Services in the US.

The most recent phase of his work is to engage with diverse organizations in the journey toward the concept of “risk-based decision-making”. The concept of being “risk-based” within organizations is somewhat pandemic in its spread throughout regulatory organizations around the world. It has been described in the literature as a “badge of legitimacy.” Despite the pandemic nature, it is rarely ever defined and there is no roadmap. This presents a problem and an opportunity. One particularly satisfying engagement was, in working with RSI colleagues and colleagues from the Alliance of Blood Operators (the suppliers of blood products in most highly developed countries), to develop a Framework for Risk Based Decision-making for Blood Safety. He was also pleased to contribute to the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s “Best-in-Class Regulator Project, where he was tasked to define “The Analytical Capabilities of a Best-in-Class Regulator.” (link) This was followed by a series of similar engagements (some spanning many years) to develop Frameworks (and the methodologies within them) in the areas of the safety of Engineered Devices (elevators, escalators, boilers, pressure vessels, fuel distribution and pipelines), across four modes of transportation (Transport Canada) and across a diverse Environmental Enforcement mandate ranging from greenhouse gases, toxic emissions, to smuggled endangered species (Environment and Climate Change Canada).

Greg Paoli: Works and Accomplishments

In 2011, Greg Paoli was awarded the Distinguished Lectureship Award given jointly by the Society for Risk Analysis (www.sra.org) and the scientific society, Sigma Xi.

Additional References

Greg Paoli: Extra-curricular

Greg is married (20+ years!) with two sons. To attempt to stay in shape, he runs 5-10K distances and plays soccer with men 20-30 years younger (time to transition to Old Timers league, you might well ask? Probably, yes.). He also enjoys downhill skiing with annual family trips to mountains in Western North America. Greg also plans to return to hockey after taking a few years off, and after they re-open Ottawa’s local arenas and outdoor rinks post-pandemic). He is also looking forward to “Empty Nest” status and the resulting freedom to travel outside of the summer months.

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