Assessing System Risk

Human error, poor maintenance, and interactions of products or systems with the environment produce consequences that should not be overlooked. Although useful for determining human health and safety effects, system risk assessment applies to all other categories of impact. For example, breakdowns or accidents waste resources and produce pollution that can lead to ecological damage. Large, catastrophic releases have a different impact than continual, smaller releases of pollutants.

In risk assessment, predicting how something can be misused is often as important as determining how it is supposed to function. Methods of risk assessment can be either relatively simple or quite complex. The most rigorous methods are usually employed to predict the potential for high-risk events in complex systems. Risk assessment models can be used in design to achieve inherently safe products. Inherently safe designs result from identifying and removing potential dangers rather than just reducing possible risks (Greenberg and Cramer 1991). A brief outline of popular risk assessment methods follows.

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