Developing public information guidelines on chemical risks


Risk communication should be seen in the broader context of a preventive approach to risk. Effective risk communication should in many cases lead not just to individuals minimizing their exposure to the hazard but also to public pressure to eliminate the source of the hazard.


Most risks and hazards in modern society are not inevitable but rather arise as the direct or indirect outcome of human activities. The backdrop to any policy on risk communication must be the goal of reducing and where possible eliminating avoidable hazards. Risk communication should not be a process whereby government or industry attempts to make avoidable hazards appear more acceptable to the public, with the hazard presented as a "given".

Risk assessment should be seen in the broader context of moving towards an environmentally sustainable society based on clean production. Standard risk assessments can provide information, with the aforementioned limitations, about the probability of certain events and their likely consequences. However, this should only be one element in a decision-making process on whether to proceed with the activity which gives rise to the risk. Over-emphasis on this aspect can detract from consideration of other issues such as social need, availability of alternatives or irreversibility of effects.

Ultimately, society needs to adopt an entirely new approach to risks and hazards – one which is preventive, pre-emptive and pro-active, rather than reactive and based on damage limitation after the event. Pervasive technologies which are reasonably suspected of having the potential for substantial, irreversible or uncontainable effects should not be developed until it has been established beyond reasonable doubt that they will not produce such effects.


This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities. Agenda 21 recommends cooperation in the development of communication guidelines on chemical risks at the national level to promote information exchange with the public and the understanding of risks.

Type Classification:
D: Detailed strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 1: No PovertyGOAL 2: Zero HungerGOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 4: Quality EducationGOAL 5: Gender EqualityGOAL 6: Clean Water and SanitationGOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and InfrastructureGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and ProductionGOAL 13: Climate ActionGOAL 14: Life Below WaterGOAL 15: Life on LandGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong InstitutionsGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal