What is Risk Assessment?
Is there such a thing as determining risk? Can you observe, analyze, or otherwise evaluate a system, a product, a component, a chemical, or even a public space, and determine what may or may not be a risk concern? And if you can, how then? How can one credibly look at a process and clearly identify the factor or factors that could lead to a failure?
Fortunately, risk assessment is not an entirely new science. For as long as humans have roamed the Earth, we have learned from our mistakes. We have known what may or may not be a risky decision. Then, with the onset of civilization, came the need to find risk in more complex systems. A living, breathing city had many more failure points than a walk through the savannah. Enter the early mathematicians who understood that one could, indeed, calculate an outcome based on both known and foreseen data.
Modern risk assessment dates back only to the mid-1970s, with the publication of the first comprehensive text, the Anatomy of Risk by William Rowe in 1977. Since that time there has been an explosion in the development of new and powerful risk assessment methodologies allowing us to tackle risk management challenges in ways not previously possible.
During this period, a consensus definition of risk as involving both probability – the chance of something bad happening, and consequences – the negative impacts associated with the unwanted event, has emerged. The importance of public perception of risk, which can amplify how people view the consequence side of risk has also been recognized.
Today, quality risk assessment is both a science and, as with our forebearers, a matter of experience. Using a multitude of tools and technologies, experts in risk science are better equipped than ever before to understand, manage and communicate risk. Using statistical models, epidemiology and a multitude of available data points, a bona fide risk assessment can enhance public safety, minimize environmental impacts, and promote health and well-being.
Who benefits from Risk Assessment?
As all things human are intrinsically risky, everyone benefits from professional and rigorous risk assessment. Risk assessment can be applied to familiar every day risks such as safely crossing a street to complex and potentially catastrophic changes affecting global society and the environment.
The list of those benefiting from scientific risk assessment spans a wide range of stakeholders including industry, civil society, government, even the military. This said, there are fields of endeavor that benefit more than others. Some of these fields are very narrow, e.g. quantitative microbiological risk assessment, while others might be broader such as the risk posed by faulty urban traffic patterns. In all cases, the public is the one that ultimately stands to gain. In intermediate terms, those with the most to gain from an RSI risk assessment are manufacturers of all goods, providers of all substances, pharmaceutical firms, municipal authorities directly responsible for public safety and security, and all companies whose environments pose a safety hazard.
"One is not exposed to danger who, even when in safety is always on their guard."
by Publilius Syrus (85 BC - 43 BC)
RSI's Risk Assessment offer, broadly
Risk Sciences International offers a broad range of risk assessment services to meet client needs. A risk assessment can be a summary assessment based on the most obvious elements, just as it can be a very in-depth, longer-term analysis using multiple data sets and risk models of increasing sophistication and complexity. It can take the form of a one day consultation, of a one week assessment, or even a in-depth longer term investigation spanning months or in some cases, years.
What RSI brings to the table is vast experience spanning the full range of risk science, helping clients to understand, manage and communicate risk.
RSI senior experts are regularly called upon to deliver top-line, expert judgement based on minimal indicators, but are also called upon to lead multi-expert efforts using advanced techniques in risk science in complex risk projection models.
RSI's Risk Assessment offer, in detail
RSI experts have extensive experience in approaching challenging risk issues using a wide range of tools and techniques in risk science. Analyses conducted by RSI often rely on data from multiple evidence streams, including toxicology, epidemiology, and clinical and surveillance studies. Exposure to important risk factors is characterized in different ways, including computation approaches for exposure assessment that avoid the need for empirical measurement. These data are combined in different ways to characterize risks and uncertainties, incorporating both probability and consequences as the two key dimensions of risk. When the available data is inadequate to support reliable assessments of risk, RSI may engage in structured expert solicitation as a basis for decision-making under uncertainty. In determining whether or not gathering additional data would serve to support clearer risk decisions, RSI may also use value-of-information analysis to prioritize additional data-gathering efforts. Always on the cutting edge of risk science, RSI experts are able to identify the best possible approaches to help understand and characterize risks of concerns to its clients.
RSI counsels its clients that the tools are not what matter most. What makes RSI unique, is its ability to use the best available tools in risk science as a basis for understanding risk, providing clients with the insight needed to identify innovative and effective ways of managing risk.
As recognized experts in the inter-disciplinary field of risk science, RSI is able to help clients from multiple sectors. Historically, RSI has worked with clients in diverse sectors ranging from chemical and product safety to public safety and security, to food safety and defense. Although the subject matter of the risk issues of concern to RSI clients varies, RSI is able to help its diverse clientele through its mastery of cross-cutting principles, procedures, and practices grounded in modern risk science.
Concretely, imagine the risk assessment of an urban intersection. The first order of business will be to gather traffic, accident, driver demographic, and weather data. The results will identify what type of driver had what type of accident at what time of day in a given type of weather. What it might not tell you, unless it is factored in, is the fact that most accidents occur in the late afternoon when the sun is reflected in a building on the southwest corner of the intersection. This is actually a real example wherein it was determined that the real risk factor had nothing to do with the intersection per se, or even the drivers. Indeed, on two previous occasions, the municipality had tried to solve the problem by changing the pause between light changes assuming that a longer double red would solve the issue. As long as the sun blinded drivers, preventing them from seeing the red light, there would be no solution. It was only by staying on-site for three days that an RSI staff member determined that the sun was the problem. The building windows were coated with a non-reflective material and, no surprise, accidents at that intersection dropped by 74% the following year.
In sum, RSI offers data, methods, analytics, and results in risk assessment, second to none. More importantly RSI experts offer insight into those results to help clients resolve risk mitigation issues they face in their respective sectors.
What are the benefits of Risk Assessment?
Everyone benefits from evidence-based risk assessment. People and organizations are constantly confronted with risks that need to be assessed – implicitly or explicitly – on an ongoing basis. Even a simple activity such as crossing an urban intersection involves risk, and risk decisions based an individual’s appraisal of risk.
At the societal level, safe foods, safe drugs, and safe roads matter. Almost every sector in which people are engaged presents risks of varying degrees. The advanced techniques in risk science brought to bear by RSI experts can help in reducing these risks in an equitable and cost-effective manner.
What can you expect?
RSI risk assessments can range from a short-term consultation to a long-term, in-depth analysis. RSI knows how to provide the right deliverable: gone are the days when one was paid for the thickness of the report. Enlightened clients want the right answer. If that answer is a single word, so be it. If it is a 5,000 page report, that’s fine too, if that report is necessary for a better outcome.
On the extreme low end of deliverables, is an example of a contract performed by RSI staff for a large telecommunications firm in Europe. Their new three-tower headquarters featured a magnificent covered agora in the middle. Its park, stream, benches, and food vendors were designed to attract staff, especially during weather extremes. It would protect them from the elements and encourage dialogue and camaraderie. Unfortunately, the agora was a failure. People were not taking their breaks there and, at the time – believed to be unrelated – was a surge in headaches throughout the company. Two firms failed to find fault. They conducted staff interviews, changed the lighting, even changed food vendors. RSI staff determined, very quickly, that the problem was actually air-pressure related. The ventilation system was designed to evacuate air in order to create a balance with the inbound airflow in the buildings. The result was that this agora’s air pressure was several millibars lower than the three buildings and the outdoors. As people transited through, there was a very noticeable change. As soon as the airflow was equalized, the agora filled up and headaches dropped. There was no report produced. There was no need.
This example is representative of the broader RSI risk assessment portfolio. Much of RSI’s work results in lengthy, detailed technical reports providing in-depth analyses using cutting-edge methods in risk science. However, at the direction of RSI’s leadership, the goal is to deliver what is needed, not what will look more expensive.
What is our expertise in Risk Assessment?
RSI has a breadth of proven risk assessment expertise, applied to multiple sectors. To date, the company has delivered over 150 assessments in the fields of chemical, microbial and micro-nutrients alone. RSI also has experience with ergonomic risk, crime, population movements, urban development, and food supply chain safety. RSI staff have provided risk assessment services to over 350 clients in Canada and internationally and have published over 1,000 scientific and technical articles in risk science. RSI teams are inherently trans-disciplinary, including experts in epidemiology, toxicology, medicine, biostatistics, quantitative and qualitative research methods, public and population health, economics, regulation and health policy. Collectively, RSI staff have the skills and experience to help clients resolve critical risk issues important to them.
Risk Assessment Case Studies
RSI Staff Case Studies listed here are examples, but by no means the limits, of RSI work in Risk Assessment. These are included here to provide prospective clients with a first glance into the type of work that RSI staff are qualified and able to deliver.
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