Environmental risk assessment

Environmental risk assessment is a proactive measure that helps companies identify the impact of their operations on the environment and prioritize areas for response. Know more below about how it is implemented and the benefits it has for your company.


What is an environmental risk assessment?


Environmental risk assessment (ERA) is a process of systematically identifying and analyzing likely hazards in the company’s operations and the likelihood of their occurrence. It also involves measuring the severity of potential consequences to the environment and to the organisms, habitats and ecosystems that live in it.

Key aspects related to ERA include the risks posed by the company’s operations to the following:

  • biodiversity
  • environmental quality 
  • public health and safety
  • worker health and safety 
  • major hazards
  • contamination of sites
  • child labor
  •  indigenous peoples

If your company has linked the risk assessment results to other considerations, such as economic or legal concerns, and has identified some practical steps to implement various risk mitigation measures, this is called environmental risk management. Risk managers use the results of the risk assessment and their environmental risk management to communicate their risks to interested stakeholders.


What are the key steps in ERA ? 


There are six key steps in conducting an environmental risk assessment

  1. Map the radius or scope of your impact boundaries – some environmental hazards and risks can be transboundary, so it is important that your company maps or establishes the boundaries of your primary, secondary and tertiary impacts. 
  2. Identify environmental hazards – identify potential sources of environmental hazards emanating from your operation. A review of the life cycle assessment (LCA) of your products or processes can help identify environmental hazards. 
  3. Characterize the hazards – categorize and describe the hazards that could cause them. For example, you can categorize the hazard by biological, chemical or physical hazard.
  4. Exposure characterization – assess and, if possible, quantify the risk of occurrence. For example, your company may establish ratings to measure the likelihood of occurrence of a particular risk (e.g., 1-least likely, 2-likely, and 3-most likely). 
  5. Characterize the risk – characterize the extent or severity of the risk as low, medium, and high, and assign quantitative values for ease of consolidation (e.g., low -1, medium-2, or high risk -3). 
  6. Overall risk assessment and conclusion – consolidate the quantitative results and prioritize the highest possible risk that is most likely to occur if the organization continues in its business as usual mode.


Why is an environmental risk assessment important (ERA) ?


Environmental risk assessment allows you to determine which processes or company activities should have precautionary measures in place to avoid or mitigate the risks. This is an essential part of your company’s occupational and safety management plan. More importantly, conducting an environmental risk assessment creates a culture of safety as every member of your company becomes aware of the hazards and risks associated with your operations, including those that are at risk.

In addition, this process provides your company with the opportunity to review the control measures in place and determine if they are sufficient to mitigate the risks in the event of an incident. . This is also a proactive and cost-effective way to address potential environmental hazards, as your company is able to prioritize and address the greatest risks associated with your operations.


What are the benefits of ERA?


All companies, for ethical and regulatory reasons, must conduct a risk assessment of their projects that may have a direct or indirect impact on the environment and community near their operations. In this way, they are able to assess the level of risk of their operations as low, medium or high risk.

An environmental risk assessment is not only beneficial for the environment, but also for your business as it helps you:

  • Comply with existing environmental policies and obligations;
  •  Avoid or reduce potential costs for cleanup, lost work by your workers or employees, legal fees, criminal charges or fines; 
  • Maintain your reputation and meet community expectations; 
  • Prevent injuries, health problems, accidents, or even death to your employees, the community, and key species in the vicinity of your operation; 
  • Improve the structures and processes you want to establish; and 
  • Find ways to increase efficiency and profitability.


What is the difference between an environmental risk assessment and an environmental impact assessment?


Environmental risk assessment (EIA) is a broad field for evaluating the potential environmental impacts of a proposed project or development in conjunction with the associated socioeconomic, cultural, and health issues. It identifies and measures both positive and negative outcomes of the company’s impacts. Environmental risk assessment, on the other hand, identifies and assesses only the negative impacts of the actions, and measures them quantitatively to analyze the likelihood of certain undesirable events occurring.


What are examples of environmental risk assessments?


Environmental risk assessment can be applied in many cases, such as:

  • Transportation Risk Assessment – can be applied in choosing modes of transportation. It assesses the risks for each mode and the likelihood of them occurring including the severity of their impacts. Consolidating the results provides an overview of which of the preferred modes of transportation poses the least environmental and health risk. 
  • Product Risk Assessment and LCA – this is a well-established process for food, medical, pharmaceutical and chemical products. This is done to reduce the risks of their products to people and the environment, going through the most stringent documentation procedures at ISO 14001

ISO14001 is a global standard for management systems that helps companies learn more about the impacts and benefits of their business. It provides companies with the ability to assess their risks using an environmental risk assessment template. Companies that are able to successfully meet the documentation procedures required by ISO140001 can obtain certification at ISO.


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