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. 2015 Aug 14;12(8):9575-88.
doi: 10.3390/ijerph120809575.

Can Public Health Risk Assessment Using Risk Matrices Be Misleading?

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Can Public Health Risk Assessment Using Risk Matrices Be Misleading?

Shabnam Vatanpour et al. Int J Environ Res Public Health. .
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Abstract

The risk assessment matrix is a widely accepted, semi-quantitative tool for assessing risks, and setting priorities in risk management. Although the method can be useful to promote discussion to distinguish high risks from low risks, a published critique described a problem when the frequency and severity of risks are negatively correlated. A theoretical analysis showed that risk predictions could be misleading. We evaluated a practical public health example because it provided experiential risk data that allowed us to assess the practical implications of the published concern that risk matrices would make predictions that are worse than random. We explored this predicted problem by constructing a risk assessment matrix using a public health risk scenario-Tainted blood transfusion infection risk-That provides negative correlation between harm frequency and severity. We estimated the risk from the experiential data and compared these estimates with those provided by the risk assessment matrix. Although we validated the theoretical concern, for these authentic experiential data, the practical scope of the problem was limited. The risk matrix has been widely used in risk assessment. This method should not be abandoned wholesale, but users must address the source of the problem, apply the risk matrix with a full understanding of this problem and use matrix predictions to inform, but not drive decision-making.

Keywords: decision-making; risk matrix; risk priorities.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
Generic risk assessment matrix.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Risk assessment matrix providing colored risk categories plus observed and estimated risk. a Observed (Obs) risk numbers shown are based on the generic risk function (Risk = Frequency × Severity; Equation (1)) and using Table 1 entries for frequency and severity based on Table 2 data; b Estimated (Est) risk numbers shown are based on the fitted risk function Equation (4).
Figure 3
Figure 3
Risk estimation according to log-Risk = log-Frequency + log-Severity.
Figure 4
Figure 4
Observed and estimated risk for observations and generated data.
Figure 5
Figure 5
Risk assessment matrix providing colored risk categories plus observed and estimated risk and generated data. a Observed (Obs) risk numbers shown are based on the generic risk function (Risk = Frequency × Severity; Equation (1)) and using Table 1 entries frequency and severity using Table 2 data; b Estimated (Est) risk numbers shown are based on the fitted risk function Equation (4); c Generated data.

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