Key Points

The common fundamentals of all risk assessment processes include: identifying hazards, assessing risks, reducing risks, and documenting the results:

  • Before commencing a risk assessment project, preparations should be made including forming a team, assigning responsibilities, and gathering appropriate information.

  • A general risk assessment process describes the seven basic steps in completing a risk assessment.

  • Identifying hazards is a critical step in the risk assessment process because, if hazards are omitted, the associated risks will remain unknown. A task-based approach to identifying hazards has been found to be very effective and is recommended where applicable.

  • A practical solution to reducing risks to an acceptable level is the good faith application of the hazard hierarchy of controls within the risk assessment process.

  • Cost is an important factor in achieving acceptable risk. Resources are always limited.

  • Risk reduction efforts must work within the real world constraints of feasibility and practicality.

Overview of the Risk Assessment Process

Although many companies and industries use different risk assessment methods, the fundamentals of the risk assessment process are common:

  • identify hazards,

  • assess risk,

  • reduce risk, and

  • document the results.

The overall risk assessment process is illustrated in Figure 1 and comprises seven steps. Step-bystep descriptions for the process follow.

Figure 1: The Risk Assessment Process From Risk Assessment: Basics and Benchmarks (2004) (available in full paper)


The goal of risk assessment is to reduce risks to an acceptable (or tolerable) level.2 The risk reduction process is not completed until tolerable risk is achieved. This article identifies some preparations that need to occur before a risk assessment begins and presents the basic risk assessment process in a step-by-step approach to assist in achieving this goal.


Although risk assessment methods have existed in various forms for many years, interest has increased in the last few years due to several factors:

  • Time: The design cycle is under ever-increasing compressive pressure, reducing tolerance for late changes or safety fixes.

  • Costs: There are significant opportunities for productivity gains and cost efficiencies (see Sidebar #1).

  • Competition: Reducing costs and increasing productivity through risk assessment improvements provides a competitive advantage.

  • International influences: Through the CE mark, the European Union (EU) explicitly requires a risk assessment, see Sidebar #2.

  • Capturing knowledge: A completed risk assessment can be used to capture much of the knowledge pertinent to the design being considered, which can be applied to similar designs.

  • Product liability: Risk assessments help reduce exposure to hazards and can assist in building a successful defense against a product liability claim.

  • Lack of standards: When industry or government standards have only general performance criteria, do not exist or have not kept pace with technological change, risk assessments provide a basis to make credible design decisions.

  • Schedule control: A risk assessment permits a company to make reasoned decisions and move quickly to implement them.

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