Risk Analysis is a scientific approach to identifying, quantifying and reducing human and environmental exposure to harmful agents or disasters. It includes the areas of risk assessment, risk communication, risk management, and public policy. It encompasses affects to human health and the environment. A "risk" can be biological, chemical, nuclear, or physical, and it can be brought about by either human or natural activities.
This broad and far-reaching field impacts our lives and well-being every day. Risk Analysis helps to identify common risks and what can be done to minimize or prevent the harmful effects of exposure to such risks. In this way, it is closely related to health fields, especially environmental and occupational health. Risk Analysis also helps us to prepare for and respond to disasters, such as tornadoes, floods, terrorist attacks, and nuclear power-plant meltdown. It also helps us decide which technological and medical advances are worth the environmental and human health risks they may pose.
The Academic Requirements
The field is multidisciplinary, and draws on areas within science, communication, policy, and social science. Students need to have a solid understanding of chemical, physical and biological processes in humans and the environment. Students will also take mathematics classes, especially statistics - most predictions of events that we cannot create in laboratory settings (such as a large-scale biological weapon attack) are based on statistical models. Classes in computer science and modeling will also be part of the curriculum.
Risk Analysis also includes policy and law, so students will need to take classes in these fields. Oral and written communication skills are a must, and students will need to be able to communicate with many different types of audiences.
Finally, an understanding of human behavior may help those who work extensively with the public. Knowledge of group behavior psychology is important in planning responses to a disaster. Understanding how social services are delivered can also help when making policy decisions.
Here are some courses that we've seen:
- Risk Communications
- Ecological Risk Assessment
- Risk Analysis and Management
- Environmental Science
- Environmental Policy
- Environmental and Resource Economics
- Quantitative Methods
- Theories of Probability and Statistics
- Science Writing for the Mass Media
- Resource Management and Environmental Law
- Health Risk Assessment
There are many different career paths that those with degrees in Risk Analysis can take. Generally speaking, one needs at least a graduate degree to work in the field.
Professionals in Risk Analysis collect data on health threats and determine how much risk these threats pose. They then propose ways to minimize risk to those exposed to these threats, how to respond to threat-related emergencies, and how to educate workers or the public on the threat.
Some professionals work in laboratories and in the health field, treating patients exposed to hazards and discovering how specific threats affect the human body, animals, and the environment. These individuals are often doctors or other health scientists. Some Risk Analysis professionals work in the policy field, helping scientists and policymakers make educated risk management decisions.
Those in the field of risk communication devise strategies to communicate risk to the public, to specific populations (such as a community or an emergency response team), to government agencies, and to the international community. These individuals need good communications skills, good public speaking skills, and the ability to respond to emergencies quickly and calmly.
Other Risk Analysis professionals work in subfields, such as environmental remediation or the military. In fact, Risk Analysis has applications in so many fields that you will find trained professionals in almost any area imaginable.
Work conditions vary, and may involve splitting time between an office and the field. Sometimes, Risk Analysis professionals are exposed to unpleasant, stressful, or even dangerous conditions; for example, they may respond to an emergency situation that puts them at risk. Most of the time, however, professionals work in office or laboratory environments and attend meetings and press conferences.
Here are some job titles that we've seen, including some of the organizations that offer them, all of which included a requirement for experience in Risk Analysis:
- Data Analyst or Environmental Statistician (Neptune and Company Inc.)
- Risk Assessor (Neptune and Company Inc.)
- Post Doctoral Research Associate (Tulane University)
- Environmental Risk Assessor (Tetra Tech EM Inc.)
- Toxicologist/Risk Assessor (Jacobs Engineering)
- Risk Partnership Program Manager (Veritude)
- Health Scientist (Ecology and Environment Inc.)
- Ecological Risk Assessor (Global Consulting Firm)
- Environmental Scientist (Greythorn Inc.)
- Risk Communicator (HPM Corporation)
- Human Health Risk Assessor (Florida Department of Health)
- Quantitative Research Associate (RayMar Research)
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Occupational Health and Safety Specialists and Technicians," 2004.
- Cleveland State University, Risk Analysis Program
- Cornell University, Environmental Risk Analysis Program
- Environmental Data Resources Inc.
- Harvard University, Center for Risk Analysis
- Society for Risk Analysis
- SRA Jobs Page
- University of East Anglia, Centre for Environmental Risk
- US EPA, "Superfund Risk Assessment," 2003.