Can you separate fact from fiction?

More specifically, when presented with risk information that may impact your organization, can you score it into one of the boxes in Table I (below)?

The ability to effectively assess, analyze, evaluate, and determine treatment for risk information are essential activities in the modern risk management process (see ISO/FDIS 31000:2009).

Evidence
Evidence is proof that the information is true. There’s also weight of evidence and strength of evidence. Information is probably true if evidence favors it at about 70 percent. The information is possibly true near the 50/50 range. What is fact or fiction may change as more information becomes available. All information (evidence) contains some degree of uncertainty. Rarely is something 100 percent fact or 100 percent fiction.

Impact
Each organization must define the impact of risk information. A major impact may be defined as failure of the organization to meet its objectives. Moderate impact may involve change necessary for the organization to meet its objectives. Minor impact could be frequent annoyances that distract the organization’s objectives. And negligible impact may pose little consequences on the organization.

Rank and treatment
The logic of Table I should be familiar to EHS pros. The matrix is similar to those that help rank sources of injury and illness by frequency and severity and establish a time-frame for treatment. In this case, a rank of 0-2 in green shade may indicate that no treatment is necessary. A rank of 3 in yellow shade indicates that caution is warranted. The risk information should be continually assessed, analyzed and evaluated. A rank of 4 in orange color indicates warning. Treatment of the risk information should be ready for prompt implementation. A rank of 5-6 in red shade indicates danger. Treatment of the risk information should be implemented without delay.

Mass collaboration
Thanks to technology spawning online social communities, there is a now paradigm shift in who may acquire power and passion on a risk topic — it can be anyone in a very short period of time.

Consider for example a lone mom who just a few years ago had concerns about the risk of chemical exposure to her family. Her access to chemical risk information was limited as was her ability to share these concerns with other moms. In 2006, an organization of moms was formed and now it has over one million members. Moms are now engaged in the treatment of risk information that should matter to you.

Chemical industry defers
The chemical industry now defers, as best as possible, to the power and passion of people’s views on risk information (risk communicator Peter Sandman’s strategy). In August 2009, the American Chemistry Council (www.americanchemistry.com) published their “10 Principles for Modernizing the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)” that are similar to the treatment proposed on TSCA in the Safer Chemicals Campaign you can view at http://www. momsrising.org/environmentalHealth. Prior to the paradigm shift in mass collaboration on risk information, the ACC denied that changes to TSCA were needed.

Organization’s objectives
To reinforce, it must be stressed that treatment of risk information should be based upon its impact on the organization’s objectives. While minimal compliance with laws may be an organizational objective, it is important to realize that today the power and passion of people’s views on risk information may outweigh mere compliance with regulations.

Is the information true?
To rank evidence in Table I, EHS pros must determine if the risk information is true. Being able to make informed decisions is what will separate you from being swept up in the sometimes erroneous wisdom of crowds.

You should be aware that the portrayal of scientific risk information can be a different as day and night, depending on which side of the fence an organization’s objectives lay. To really understand if risk information is true means you must straddle the fence when evaluating risk information and bank on your own conclusions.

Next, review the articles found in the 2006 supplement to the American Journal of Public Health at http://www.defendingscience.org/AmJPublicHealth- Supplement.cfm to see how the risk information game has been played. How should the game be played? See the August 5, 2009, bipartisan “Science for Policy Project” report at http://www.bipartisanpolicy.org/ht/a/ GetDocumentAction/i/11125.