1.3 Risk communication


Risk communication is defined in the Codex Alimentarius Commission Procedural Manual, Fourteenth Edition (2004) as "The interactive exchange of information and opinions throughout the risk analysis process concerning risk, risk-related factors and risk perceptions, among risk assessors, risk managers, consumers, industry, the academic community and other interested parties, including the explanation of risk assessment findings and the basis of risk management decisions."

Benefit of risk communication

An appropriate risk communication can assist public professionals in their roles of preventing ineffective, fear-driven and potentially damaging public responses to serious crises.


  • Ease public concern
  • Give the public guidance on how to respond to the crisis

Types of risk messages

A risk message can be a written, verbal or visual statement containing information about the risk in question. It may or may not include advice about risk reduction behavior.

Perception of risk

People perceive risks differently and they do not believe that all risks are of the same type, size or importance.

Risks perceived to be:

  • Voluntary
  • Under the individual’s control
  • Distributed fairly
  • Natural
  • Statistical

  …are more acceptable than:

  • Imposed risks
  • Risks controlled by others
  • Unfairly distributed risks
  • Manmade risks
  • Catastrophic risks 
risk communication

In conclusion

  • The more uncertain a risk is the more people will be afraid of it.
  • Risks to children are feared more than risks to adults
  • The more aware people are of a risk, the more likely people will be afraid of it
  • Fear is greater when a risk is new

Rules for earning trust and building credibility

  • Public must be involved as a partner
  • Public’s specific concerns must be taken into account
  • Honesty and openness are key issues. It is crucial that the public should not be misled by lying or failing to provide information that is important in their understanding of issues
  • Working with credible sources is vital
  • Media needs should be met

Source: Presentation by Ph.D. Ruby E. Brown - Mental Health Outreach and Emergency Coordinator, Arlington County, USA

Risk communication in relation to risk analysis

Risk communication is an integral and ongoing part of the risk analysis exercise, and ideally all stakeholder groups should be involved from the start. Risk communication makes stakeholders aware of the process at each stage of the risk assessment. Industry stakeholders may, for example have unpublished data crucial to the risk assessors, which may be an essential part of the data needed for the risk assessment.

The identification of particular interest groups and their representatives should comprise a part of an overall risk communication strategy. This risk communication strategy should be discussed and agreed upon between risk assessors and managers early in the process to ensure two-way communication. This strategy should also cover who should present information to the public, and the manner in which it should be done.

Risk communication is most effective if undertaken in a systematic way. It generally starts with the gathering of information on the risk issue of concern. Therefore risk managers and risk assessors must be able to briefly and clearly summarize what this issue covers. Once available information has been gathered and the risk has been appropriately assessed, then the preparation and dissemination of this information is needed. This will be followed by further discussion with stakeholders, leading to corrections, amendments, and additions as appropriate, resulting in the final risk assessment and risk analysis reports.

Source: WHO