Societal risk acceptability in the Canadian House of Commons
Mar 1st, 2023
We are very pleased to see the notion of societal risk acceptability in the Canadian House of Commons, emerge publicly through the records. It is indeed a rare occurrence that information on our work is made public, due to the strict NDAs we sign with our clients.
Actually, Mr. Chris Apps, Director, Lands and Resources at Kitselas First Nation, reported on Riskope’s work (see the section at 1655 in the record).
Our findings were used to bring positive changes to the population at risk
In extreme summary, our report and findings have contributed to influence some positive changes for populations at risk. Indeed, we hope that the implementation of these mitigative measures will help safeguard communities and promote a healthier environment for all.
The testimony is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our team in conducting the research and preparing the report.
Thus, we would like to acknowledge here the contributions of C. Angelino as well as Dr. Janis Shandro, Community Health and Safety Specialist; Director, Arrowsmith Gold Inc., who recommended our engagement.
Riskope’s scope of work
Riskope’s scope was to undertake an independent desktop assessment of rail and road transportation risks potentially impacting the Kitselas and Kitsumkalum Traditional Territories.
Earlier we had performed somewhat similar endeavors in the NWT, Canada, Chile, Peru, and the USA. In particular we had already completed a study of the Prairie Creek All Season Road, a 160km long access road to the Canzinc project across the Nahanni national park.
Without breaching the NDA we signed with the Kitselas, our scope included:
- Assessing the current state of the rail and road infrastructure in the area.
- Evaluating the potential hazards, risks and safety considerations associated with these modes of transportation and a benchmarking with societal risk acceptability.
- Developing a risk management plan to mitigate risks and ensure the safety of personnel, travelers and cargo.
- Preparing and submitting a report containing our findings and recommendations.
- Providing support to the client in implementing the risk management plan.
Evolution of risk is paramount
Risk is a metric that evolves with the changing environment.
Indeed climate change has the potential to significantly alter the risk profile of any given area or project. As extreme weather events such as floods, heat waves become more likely, there are significant impacts on the hazard and risk profile of an area. In addition, increased traffic and population density due, for instance, to a number of planned projects in an area, can increase the number of accidents and harm to people.
Furthermore, air pollution and other environmental issues that can affect health and safety of the local resident and users become more significant.
Once again risk assessment should consider the consequences of potential mishaps as multidimensional and additive. Indeed focusing on the worst dimension of consequences leads to bias and risk underestimations. We discussed this and other common risk assessments mistakes in our book chapter “The Long Shadow of Human‐Generated Geohazards: Risks and Crises ”
Quantitative risk assessments and comparison of the risks with tolerance and societal acceptability are the only way to rationally and transparently develop mitigative roadmaps. As a result decision-maker can tackle climate change and increased traffic conundrums trying to find equitable solutions.
Risk tolerance and acceptability
Societal risk acceptability is a measure of the level of risk that a society is willing to accept in order to achieve a certain goal. This concept is used to help determine the level of health and safety that is acceptable for the public. By looking at societal risk acceptability, decision makers identify the best course of action to ensure the safety of the public while still achieving the desired result.
The purpose of this assessment was to identify and quantify the risks to the population associated with rail and road transportation activities in the traditional territories.
The results of the assessment included a quantified risk to the population and comparison with publicly available international societal risk acceptability thresholds. That is, the study evaluated how risky the situation is right now and how the risk to population will evolve with an increase in railroad and highways traffic. Furthermore, we proposed the implementation of a range of risk management measures to reduce those risks.
These included, again without breaching confidentiality:
- improved training and safety procedures,
- increased maintenance of equipment, and improved track inspection and finally
- level crossing and other intersections protocols.
We noted that active monitoring of the system, along with public awareness campaigns, could help to reduce the number of accidents and fatalities.
That is, even if the region will see significant increase of rail and highway traffic.
Furthermore, stricter enforcement of safety regulations could help to reduce the risk of harm to people.