Characterizing environmental harm: developments in an approach to strategic risk assessment and risk management

Risk Anal. 2004 Dec;24(6):1551-60. doi: 10.1111/j.0272-4332.2004.00549.x.


Environmental policymakers and regulators are often in the position of having to prioritize their actions across a diverse range of environmental pressures to secure environmental protection and improvements. Information on environmental issues to inform this type of strategic analysis can be disparate; it may be too voluminous or even absent. Data on a range of issues are rarely presented in a common format that allows easy analysis and comparison. Nevertheless, judgments are required on the significance of various environmental pressures and on the inherent uncertainties to inform strategic assessments such as "state of the environment" reports. How can decisionmakers go about this type of strategic and comparative risk analysis? In an attempt to provide practical tools for the analysis of environmental risks at a strategic level, the Environment Agency of England and Wales has conducted a program of developmental research on strategic risk assessment since 1996. The tools developed under this program use the concept of "environmental harm" as a common metric, viewed from technical, social, and economic perspectives, to analyze impacts from a range of environmental pressures. Critical to an informed debate on the relative importance of these perspectives is an understanding and analysis of the various characteristics of harm (spatial and temporal extent, reversibility, latency, etc.) and of the social response to actual or potential environmental harm from a range of hazards. Recent developments in our approach, described herein, allow a presentation of the analysis in a structured fashion so as to better inform risk-management decisions.

MeSH terms

  • Environment*
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Environmental Pollution*
  • Humans
  • Occupational Exposure / prevention & control
  • Occupational Health
  • Probability
  • Risk
  • Risk Assessment / methods*
  • Risk Management