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Narrowing the Range: A Framework for Risk Regulators

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journal contribution
posted on 08.11.2011, 00:00 by Daniel Byrd, Lester B. Lave

Society has yet to agree on the most critical step in risk management: identifying risk goals and translating them into regulations. say Daniel Byrd and Lester B. Lave. As a result, decisions about what to regulate have been inconsistent and sometimes arbitrary. How should society set priorities among the many actual and potential hazards? To avoid squandering limited resources, the authors say. regulators should focus on the significant risks and ignore the trivial, or de minimis, ones.

Byrd and Lave propose that regulatory agencies adopt the concepts of significant and de minimis risks to guide their decision making. This approach would narrow the regulatory agenda. they say: instead of agonizing over each new situation, agencies would have clear guidance on a major portion of them. But there are several obstacles. First, the science of risk quantification is still uncertain. Second. there is no consensus on what constitutes a significant or a de minimis risk. And third. it is not clear how to handle the plethora of risks that fall in the middle.

While resolution of these questions will not be easy, the authors believe that it would be a major step toward making risk management more efficient and predictable. In this article they attempt to define the concepts of significant and de minimis risks and then suggest how these concepts can be used in regulatory decisionmaking.


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