Skip to main content

Acceptable Risk

ACCEPTABLE RISK

The term "acceptable risk" describes the likelihood of an event whose probability of occurrence is small, whose consequences are so slight, or whose benefits (perceived or real) are so great, that individuals or groups in society are willing to take or be subjected to the risk that the event might occur. The concept of acceptable risk evolved partly from the realization that absolute safety is generally an unachievable goal, and that even very low exposures to certain toxic substances may confer some level of risk. The notion of virtual safety corresponding to an acceptable level of risk emerged as a risk management objective in cases where such exposures could not be completely or cost-effectively eliminated.

Two proxy measures have been used to determine acceptable risk levels. The revealed-preference approach assumes that society, through trial and error, has achieved a nearly optimal, and thus acceptable, balance of risks and benefits. The expressed-preference approach uses opinion surveys and public consultations to obtain information about risk levels warranting mitigation action.

Although regulatory authorities are reluctant to define a precise level of acceptable risk, lifetime risks in the order of one in a million have been discussed in regulatory applications of the acceptable risk concept. This level of risk is considered to be de minimis, an abbreviation of the legal concept de minimus non curatlex (the law does not concern itself with trifles). Attempts have also been made to establish benchmarks, such as the risk of being hit by lightning, to help interpret such small risks. Higher levels of risk might be tolerated in the presence of offsetting health or economic benefits, when the risk is voluntary rather than involuntary, or when the population at risk is small.

Although conceptually attractive, application of the concept of acceptable risk is fraught with difficulty, ultimately involving consideration of social values. Inequities in the distribution of risks and benefits across society further complicate the determination of an acceptable level of risk.

Daniel Krewski

(see also: Benefits, Ethics, and Risks; Risk Assessment, Risk Management )

Bibliography

Fischoff, B.; Lichtenstein, S.; Slovic, P.; Derby, S. L.; and Keeney, R. L. (1981). Acceptable Risk. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Hrudey, S., and Krewski, D. (1995). "Is There a Safe Level of Exposure to a Carcinogen?" Environmental Science and Technology 29:370A375A.

Paling, J., and Paling, S. (1994). Up to Your Armpits in Alligators? How to Sort Out the Risks That Are Worth Worrying About. Gainesville, FL: The Environmental Institute.

Rodricks, J. V. (1992). Calculated Risks: The Toxicity and Human Health Risks of Chemicals in Our Environment. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Acceptable Risk." Encyclopedia of Public Health. . Encyclopedia.com. 7 Dec. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Acceptable Risk." Encyclopedia of Public Health. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 7, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/acceptable-risk

"Acceptable Risk." Encyclopedia of Public Health. . Retrieved December 07, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/acceptable-risk

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.