Risk Assessments form an important part of business activities, particularly where there are different tasks to be undertaken which may have safety, health and environmental risks of varying degrees of significance. One of the weaknesses of the risk assessment process is that it is only as good as the knowledge, skills, training and experience of the teams involved in preparing the risk assessments. Lack of experience, training and task understanding can produce risk assessments of varying qualities and can lack critical content necessary to minimise and mitigate risks.

An article called “Key Elements for Judging the Quality of a Risk Assessment”, written by Penelope Fenner-Crisp and Vicki Dellarco, appearing in Environmental Health Perspectives, Volume 124, Number 8, August 2016, summarises the key characteristics of a high quality risk assessment, albeit focussing mainly on those risk assessment related to human health impacts associated with exposure to chemicals. The authors do remark that their discussion and comments could equally apply to ecological risk assessment and to other stresses such as radiation, microbes, products of biotechnology, and categories such as environmental contaminants, medical devices, drugs, tobacco, consumer products, commodity chemicals, pesticides and food contaminants. It becomes clear, reading through the article, that there are many aspects of the authors’ conclusions and recommendations that could be carried over to task-based risk assessments and their evaluation.

Apart from the valuable analytical content in the paper, a very practical tool included in the paper is Appendix 1 – Guide for Judging the Quality of an Assessment. The Guide consists of seven sections which prompt the assessor to test the assessment against statements under the various categories. The categories are:- Problem Formulation/Scoping and Planning; Systematic Review of the Literature; Hazard Assessment/Characterisation; Dose-Response Assessment/Characterisation; Exposure Assessment/Characterisation; Risk Characterisation; and Peer Review. This is a powerful guide for continuous improvement and although preparers of basic risk assessments may find it too complex, there is certainly plenty to gain by working through the categories and utilising the statements in different risk assessment processes.