Chapter 2: The use of risk assessment in environmental management

This chapter examines the role of risk assessment and management in environmental management. The use of risk assessment by governments and regulators in policy and regulatory decisions is discussed, as is the use of the tool by European industry. The chapter aims to outline the major ways in which risk assessment is used and gives specific examples of such use in Europe. The examples highlight some of the difficulties involved in the use of risk assessment and the subtle differences that arise in different EU states.

More discussion of the benefits of, and pitfalls associated with the use of risk assessment and management as an environmental management tool is contained in Chapter 9.

2.1 The use of risk assessment and management techniques in policy and regulatory decisions

Risk assessment and management approaches to environmental issues are increasingly being used at all levels of policy and regulation. The techniques have a wide range of application, including;

  • the design of regulation, for instance in determining societally "acceptable" risk levels which may form the basis of environmental standards; Example
  • providing a basis for site-specific decisions, for instance in land-use planning or siting of hazardous installations; Example
  • prioritisation of environmental risks, for instance in the determination of which chemicals to regulate first; Example
  • comparison of risks, for instance to enable comparisons to be made between the resources being allocated to the control of different types of risk, or to allow risk substitution decisions to be made. Example
Graham Burns,
Environmental images

2.2 The use of risk assessment and management techniques in industry

ERA has traditionally been a function of policy and regulatory agencies and most development has taken place in these fields. ERA is becoming more common in industry partly as a result of the use of ERA in regulation.

ERA is used in industry in the following;

  • Compliance with legislation
  • Product safety
  • Financial planning
  • Site-specific decision making
  • Prioritisation and evaluation of risk reduction measures

2.3 What risk assessment can and cannot do

Although risk assessment and management have and will continue to become increasingly important environmental management tools, it is important to look at what the techniques can actually achieve and equally as importantly, what they cannot.

2.3.1 Good Points

  • A technique which can weigh-up information that is basically in different "languages"
  • A mechanism to aid decision-making
  • A basis for effective risk communication
  • A method for highlighting and prioritising research needs

2.3.2 Pitfalls

The techniques have been criticised for a number of reasons, some of which are not real criticisms of the techniques but are related to the philosophical basis of carrying out such assessments in the first place. The dumping of the Brent Spar is one such example.

Criticisms focusing on the use of the techniques include;

  • Possible over-reliance and over confidence in results
  • Narrow focus on parts of a problem rather than the whole
  • Awkward relationship between risk assessment and the precautionary principle

Reference list for this chapter


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