Beyond Risk Assessment
Integrating the Risk Sciences into the
Profession of Industrial Hygiene
Risk: it is that four-letter word used extensively in today’s society to discuss everything from the dangers of operating a vehicle to uncertainty in the economy to the perils of certain lifestyle choices. Risk is inherently personal in nature and varies greatly between individuals, organizations, and businesses. For this reason, risk can be a divisive topic. What one person or group deems as an acceptable or “safe” behavior, another will judge as “dangerous” or too risky. The one thing that most of us can agree on is that risks are all around us, regardless of the setting.

The modern work environment is no different. The American economy has shifted since the mid-20th century from a focus on manufacturing to one based on the service industry. In response, a substantially greater number of workers can be found in office buildings compared to factories. New technologies, such as nanomaterial-enabled products and processes, are found in every industrial sector alongside traditional hazards, such as noise and lead. As the work environment continues to change, are we prepared to address the challenges that these potential risk factors represent for both workers and their employers? 
Analyzing and controlling risk in the work environment have long been recognized as core competencies for industrial hygienists. Whether we are discussing a specific hazard (chemical, noise, radiation) or topic (product stewardship, cumulative risk assessment, hazard banding), risk is at the center of the conversation. During these discussions, we often ask: 
  • Is there a universal definition of risk that we should be applying? If so, what is it? 
  • Should occupational risk assessments focus on characterizing exposures or managing hazards?
  • How do we communicate risks to our intended stakeholders? 
  • As industrial hygienists, are we exposure assessors or risk assessors?
The responses to these questions are often diverse, separating us into different camps based on our experiences, areas of focus, and opinions. Regardless of how you personally answer these questions, the importance of risk to the profession of industrial hygiene cannot be denied.  AIHA is actively engaged in integrating the topic of risk into our profession. Several risk-based initiatives are currently underway, such as the Risk Body of Knowledge and efforts to demonstrate the value of industrial hygiene as a component of enterprise risk management. These initiatives demonstrate not only that our understanding of risk is expanding beyond traditional risk assessment approaches but that the roles of industrial hygiene professionals are changing. Risk in the workplace is no longer being defined by occupational exposure limits or the application of the hierarchy of controls as the standard for risk management. Instead, our profession is expanding into new areas of expertise, and we are becoming more reliant on increasing our understanding of risk to meet these new challenges.
Health professionals in allied fields, such as environmental health and public health, are expanding the knowledge and application of the risk sciences. Through their efforts, we are gaining an increased awareness of the scientific basis of, and novel approaches to, risk assessment. Over the last forty years, the field of risk science, which includes risk analysis, assessment, and management, has grown dramatically and is recognized as a critical tool for addressing complex public and environmental health issues. Numerous organizations, such as the National Academy of Sciences, EPA, and the World Health Organization, have developed different components of the risk sciences. Some of the publications that have shaped our understanding of the risk sciences are listed below.  For example, the NAS “Red Book” published in 1984 first outlined the risk assessment and management paradigm that serves as the basis for other approaches, such as those from EPA and WHO. The NAS “Silver Book” expands on the original paradigm and incorporates new elements intended to improve the risk analysis process such as problem formulation and scoping, risk-based decision making, and cumulative risk assessment. Although these efforts may have been created for public and environmental health purposes, the principles and concepts they present help readers understand risk in the work environment and serve as the basis of occupational risk analysis.

is managing health scientist at Cardno ChemRisk in Cincinnati, Ohio, and chair of AIHA’s Risk Committee. He can be reached via
Since its creation in the 1980s, the AIHA Risk Assessment Committee has comprised volunteers who have promoted risk assessment as a core competency of the industrial hygiene profession. The mission of the committee has historically been to support and promote the application of human health risk assessment to better understand and control the hazards found within workplace and environmental settings. The committee has generated numerous professional development courses, publications, and technical symposiums on the topic of risk assessment. These efforts have been successful in raising awareness among industrial hygienists about the importance of risk assessment and advancing our profession. To ensure that we continue to be industry leaders, the committee has elected to change both its name and mission. Moving forward, the AIHA Risk Assessment Committee will now be called the AIHA Risk Committee. The new mission of the committee has expanded “to support and promote the application of the principles and concepts of the risk sciences to better analyze, characterize, manage, and communicate the hazards found in the workplace and environmental settings.” The primary focus areas for the committee will now include: 
  1. risk assessment: the systematic process used to estimate the nature and extent of risk 
  2. risk characterization: the final step in the risk assessment process, which results in a qualitative and/or quantitative description of risk, including the knowledge on which the assessment’s judgment and assumptions are based 
  3. risk management: the process, including the policies and activities, used to prevent and mitigate the risk of interest 
  4. risk communication: the exchange of information with critical stakeholders (for example, employers, employees, the surrounding community, government agencies) regarding potential hazards and risk 
  5. risk (cost-benefit) analysis: a systematic approach for estimating the potential strengths, weaknesses, costs, and opportunities associated with a decision (for example, risk management strategies)

Each of these focus areas represents key components of the risk analysis process that may help industrial hygienists make better decisions associated with the risk of a wide range of hazards or events, such as exposures to a specific chemical, preparations for a community disaster, or incorporation of a novel risk management approach into an existing industrial process. Regardless of the origin of the hazard of interest, the focus areas are useful tools that industrial hygienists can use to enhance our decision-making abilities beyond our historic exposure, risk, and management approaches. 

These changes are not a simple re-branding. They are intended to broaden the scope of the committee’s activities beyond risk assessment to integrate the evolving practice of the risk sciences into the profession of industrial hygiene. In addition, the new name and mission align more closely with core AIHA initiatives such as enterprise risk management, hazard banding, product stewardship, and the Body of Knowledge projects. These efforts are all intended to elevate our profession, ensure our relevance in the changing economic landscape, and reflect the current understanding of technical knowledge of the risk sciences.
National Academies Press:
Issues in Risk Assessment
(1993). National Academies Press:
Risk Assessment in the Federal Government: Managing the Process
(“Red Book,” 1983). National Academies Press:
Science and Decisions: Advancing Risk Assessment
(“Silver Book,” 2009). National Academies Press:
Science and Judgment in Risk Assessment
(1994). World Health Organization:
WHO Human Health Risk Assessment Toolkit: Chemical Hazards
Risk in the workplace is no longer being defined by occupational exposure limits or the application of the hierarchy of controls as the standard for risk management.