Universal metric to assess and prioritise risks

Thursday 25 Sep 14


Maarten Nauta
Senior Researcher (former employee)
National Food Institute
+45 35 88 70 85

When decision-makers have to decide how to handle various risks in our society, they need one metric to assess and prioritise these risks. The National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, in August 2014 helped organise a symposium where international experts met to examine what such a metric should look like.

For politicians and other decision-makers to be able to prioritise between the different - and sometimes conflicting - risks facing society, they must be able to compare the loss of quality of life that various risks may cause. In a specific situation it might be important to weigh up food safety – i.e. the risk of human disease – against animal welfare, or sustainable production against competitiveness.

However, in order to prioritise it is necessary to use the same metric to calculate the cost of the various risks. In August 2014 experts from different disciplines – such as building construction and renewable energy – met to map out the basic principles that should underpin such a metric. The meeting took place at the international symposium 'Society-Wide Life Safety and Health Management', which was held at the Technical University of Denmark. The symposium was organised by DTU Global Decision Support Initiative and the International Joint Committee on Structural Safety. The National Food Institute was co-organiser.

Different disciplines have already developed methods to calculate quality of life, but a universal metric does not exist.

Common language for use in risk assessment and modelling

At the symposium, the participants were able to share knowledge of and experience in managing risk. Experts from the National Food Institute advocated that a common terminology for use in risk assessment and modelling across disciplines is established. They were also able to tell about Denmark's success in separating risk assessment and risk management of food safety and the need for constant communication about the different risks.

At the symposium, participants also discussed the barriers that stand in the way of introducing a sound basis for making objective decisions about the way in which risks should be prioritised.

Read more

The National Food Institute works to estimate the disease burden which is the cost of various food-borne illnesses - both the costs faced by society and by the people who become ill. Read more on the institute’s website.