Natural and social sciences jointly research, assess and communicate risks
Consumers estimate the risks and benefits from chemicals to be roughly on a par in daily life. This estimation is based on household cleaning products, the largest product group, but also on cosmetics and toys. Although consumers do not heed all the safety instructions on chemical products, they would nonetheless welcome more information about risks on the packaging. This information should be easily comprehensible, for instance presented as symbols. Consumers feel that the main people responsible for communicating the risks from chemical products are manufacturers. Their main expectation of public institutions is for them to monitor manufacturers. These are the main results of a research project of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). Along with other research work, it was presented at the 2nd BfR Risk Communication Symposium which ended today in Berlin. "We planned the symposium as an interdisciplinary event where experts from the natural and social sciences have an opportunity to engage in an exchange on questions relating to research into, the assessment and communication of risks", says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel.
A response to the question about how a society can handle specific risks in an adequate manner can only be given jointly by the natural and social sciences. Around 100 representatives of various disciplines from research institutes and public institutions in Germany and Austria discussed these topics over the last two days at the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in Berlin. Chemists, biologists and physicians who assess the risks together with sociologists and psychologists who look at how risk assessments are received and implemented by the population at large forged a link between the laboratory and the kitchen table. It became clear that understanding between all the stakeholders beyond methodological boundaries and the target group-oriented communication of scientific findings to interested individuals from political circles, the sciences, industry, media, associations, public institutions, non-governmental organisations and consumers are of major importance.
Beside the project on the risk assessment of chemical products in everyday life, the Risk Communication Department together with the BfR Departments Chemical, Food and Product Safety presented other ongoing and recently completed projects in the field of the social-scientific risk communication of natural science topics. They include the analysis of Internet fora on nanotechnology, a concept for risk indexing using the example of product safety, findings on the limits and opportunities of product labelling, analyses of target group-driven risk communication on the subject of food supplements, and a project looking at how the BfR risk assessments of food safety can influence consumer risk perception.
The presentations at this symposium will be posted shortly on the BfR website www.bfr.bund.de under “Events”. The final reports of the research projects presented at this event are available (in german) in the BfR-Wissenschaft series and can be downloaded from the section “Publications”.