A framework for environmental risk assessment

Environmental risk deals with the probability of an event causing a potentially undesirable effect (Beer and Ziolkowski, 1996). Probability is the mathematical measure of risk and risk assessment determines the nature of the undesirable effect. Over the past two decades, risk management has attained maturity and become a tool for informed decision making.

The framework of risk assessment contains four main components: (1) formulating the problem; (2) carrying out an assessment of the risk; (3)identifying and appraising the management options available; and (4) addressing the risk with the chosen risk management strategy (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2011). It can be explicated in detail as follows (figure 1).


Figure1. A framework for environmental risk assessment and management. Source:Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2011.

When a risk problem is highlighted, the origins, pathways and receptors under potential treat should be recognized. After that, an assessment plan is required in order to outline the data requirements for assessment and the methods of data collection and synthesis. Resources for assessment can be allocated from initial risk screening and prioritization. It is important to define the harmful environment impact clearly before assessing risks. An estimation of the potential consequences of the hazard and an evaluation of the probability of impact can be then carried out. This evidence can be used to provide judgement as to the significance of the risk.

It is better to use appropriate technique analysis and understand the uncertainties of risk assessment when possible. When considering the risk management options, the positive and negative effects of them should be appraised from technical, economic, environmental, social aspects and organizational capabilities. The chosen strategy should usually include terminating, mitigating, transferring, exploiting or tolerating the risk. During the the period of implementation, the chosen strategy should be monitored to guarantee that the risk is controlled to an appropriate level. In a word, a clear organizational and people framework is needed to ensure accountabilities are understood, and each component can be transparent and involves stakeholders when possible. Especially, when communicating the risk management strategy to the public, it is significant to emphasize that the public have a responsibility to take reasonable concern.


Beer, T. and Ziolkowski, F., 1996. Environmental Risk Assessment: An Australian Perspective (p. 1996). Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, Australian National University.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2011. Guidelines for environmental risk assessment and management: green leaves III, HMSO, London.

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