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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Risk management frameworks for human health and environmental risks.

A comprehensive analytical review of the risk assessment, risk management, and risk communication approaches currently being undertaken by key national, provincial/state, territorial, and international agencies was conducted. The information acquired for review was used to identify the differences, commonalities, strengths, and weaknesses among the various approaches, and to identify elements that should be included in an effective, current, and comprehensive approach applicable to environmental, human health and occupational health risks. More than 80 agencies, organizations, and advisory councils, encompassing more than 100 risk documents, were examined during the period from February 2000 until November 2002. An overview was made of the most important general frameworks for risk assessment, risk management, and risk communication for human health and ecological risk, and for occupational health risk. In addition, frameworks for specific applications were reviewed and summarized, including those for (1)contaminated sites; (2) northern contaminants; (3) priority substances; (4) standards development; (5) food safety; (6) medical devices; (7) prescription drug use; (8) emergency response; (9) transportation; (10) risk communication. Twelve frameworks were selected for more extensive review on the basis of representation of the areas of human health, ecological, and occupational health risk; relevance to Canadian risk management needs; representation of comprehensive and well-defined approaches; generalizability with their risk areas; representation of "state of the art" in Canada, the United States, and/or internationally; and extent of usage of potential usage within Canada. These 12 frameworks were: 1. Framework for Environmental Health Risk Management (US Presidential/Congressional Commission on Risk Assessment and Risk Management, 1997). 2. Health Risk Determination: The Challenge of Health Protection (Health and Welfare Canada, 1990). 3. Health Canada Decision-Making Framework for Identifying, Assessing and Managing Health Risks (Health Canada, 2000). 4. Canadian Environmental Protection Act: Human Health Risk Assessment of Priority Substances(Health Canada, 1994). 5. CSA-Q8550 Risk Management: Guidelines for Decision-Makers (Canada Standards Association, 1997). 6. Risk Assessment in the Federal Government: Managing the Process (US National Research Council, 1983). 7. Understanding Risk: Informing Decisions in a Democratic Society (US National Research Council, 1996). 8. Environmental Health Risk Assessment (enHealth Council of Australia, 2002). 9. A Framework for Ecological Risk Assessment (CCME, 1996). 10. Ecological Risk Assessments of Priority Substances Under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (Environment Canada, 1996).11. Guidelines for Ecological Risk Assessment (US EPA, 1998b). 12. Proposed Model for Occupational Health Risk Assessment and Management (Rampal & Sadhra, 1999). Based on the extensive review of these frameworks, seven key elements that should be included in a comprehensive framework for human health, ecological, and occupational risk assessment and management were identified: 1. Problem formulation stage. 2. Stakeholder involvement. 3. Communication. 4. Quantitative risk assessment components. 5. Iteration and evaluation. 6. Informed decision making. 7. Flexibility. On the basis of this overarching approach to risk management, the following "checklist" to ensure a good risk management decision is proposed: - Make sure you're solving the right problem. - Consider the problem and the risk within the full context of the situation, using a broad perspective. - Acknowledge, incorporate, and balance the multiple dimensions of risk. - Ensure the highest degree of reliability for all components of the risk management process. - Involve interested and effected parties from the outset of the process. - Commit to honest and open communication between all parties. - Employ continuous evaluation throughout the process (formative, process, and outcome evaluation), and be prepared to change the decision if new information becomes available. Comprehensive and sound principles are critical to providing structure and integrity to risk management frameworks. Guiding principles are intended to provide an ethical grounding for considering the many factors involved in risk management decision making. Ten principles are proposed to guide risk management decision making. The first four principles were adapted and modified from Hattis (1996) along with the addition of two more principles by Hrudey (2000). These have been supplemented by another four principles to make the 10 presented. The principles are based in fundamental ethical principles and values. These principles are intended to be aspirational rather than prescriptive--their application requires flexibility and practical judgement. Risk management is inherently a process in search of balance among competing interests and concerns. Each risk management decision will be "balancing act" of competing priorities, and trade-offs may sometimes have to be made between seemingly conflicting principles. The 10 decision-making principles, with the corresponding ethical principle in italics are: 1. Do more good than harm (beneficence, nonmalificence).- The ultimate goal of good risk management is to prevent or minimize risk, or to "do good" as much as possible. 2. Fair process of decision making (fairness, natural justice). - Risk management must be just, equitable, impartial, unbiased, dispassionate, and objective as far as possible given the circumstances of each situation. 3. Ensure an equitable distribution of risk (equity). - An equitable process of risk management would ensure fair outcomes and equal treatment of all concerned through an equal distribution of benefits and burdens (includes the concept of distributive justice, i.e., equal opportunities for all individuals). 4. Seek optimal use of limited risk management resources (utility). - Optimal risk management demands using limited resources where they will achieve the most risk reduction of overall benefit. 5. Promise no more risk management that can be delivered (honesty).- Unrealistic expectations of risk management can be avoided with honest and candid public accounting of what we know and don't know, and what we can and can't do using risk assessment and risk management. 6. Impose no more risk that you would tolerate yourself (the Golden Rule). - The Golden Rule is important in risk management because it forces decision makers to abandon complete detachment from their decisions so they may understand the perspectives of those affected. 7. Be cautious in the face of uncertainty ("better safe than sorry"). - Risk management must adopt a cautious approach when faced with a potentially serous risk, even if the evidence is uncertain. 8. Foster informed risk decision making for all stakeholders (autonomy). - Fostering autonomous decision making involves both providing people with the opportunity to participate, and full and honest disclosure of all the information required for informed decisions. 9. Risk management processes must be flexible and evolutionary to be open to new knowledge and understanding (evolution, evaluation, iterative process). - The incorporation of new evidence requires that risk management be a flexible, evolutionary, and iterative process, and that evaluation is employed at the beginning and througthout the process. 10. the complete elimination fo risk is not possible (life is not risk free).- Risk is pervasive in our society, and cannot be totally eliminated despite an oft-expressed public desire for "zero risk". However, the level of risk that may ve tolerable by any individual is dependent on values of beliefs, as well as scientific information. Each agency must continue to employ a process that meets the needs of their specific application of risk management. A single approach cannot satisfy the diverse areas to which risk decisions are being applied. However, with increasing experience in the application of the approaches, we are evolving to a common understanding of the essential elements and principles required for successful risk assessment, risk management, and risk communication. Risk management will continue to be a balancing act of competing priorities and needs. Flexibility and good judgement are ultimately the key to successfully making appropriate risk decisions.[1]


  1. Risk management frameworks for human health and environmental risks. Jardine, C., Hrudey, S., Shortreed, J., Craig, L., Krewski, D., Furgal, C., McColl, S. Journal of toxicology and environmental health. Part B, Critical reviews. (2003) [Pubmed]
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