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What is risk assessment?

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Risk assessment is the mental process of measuring the risks involved in engaging in a given activity. People perform risk assessments most often when they are trying to decide whether or not to engage in an activity they perceive to be “risky.” Using a drug, for example (any drug), has risks. Questions someone might ask themselves or their doctor before taking a particular drug, in order to assess the risks, include:

  • What are the negative side effects?
  • Does this drug interact dangerously with other drugs?
  • Is it addictive?
  • Will I experience withdrawal symptoms when I stop?
  • There are many other questions someone might ask. These are just a few examples.

Risk assessment is always a risk/benefit assessment.

To measure anything, a scale or counterweight is needed. The counterweight to a risk is a benefit. A person undertaking a risk assessment weighs the perceived risks against the perceived benefits (real or imagined), and the “heavier” side wins. Risk assessment, therefore, is always a risk/benefit assessment.

People perform risk/benefit assessments every day, even unconsciously. For example, every time someone gets into a car or an airplane they are making an unconscious decision that the benefits of rapid transportation outweigh the risk of injury or death.

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