4 Risk Assessment Tools All Quality Pros Should Have in Their Toolbox

By ETQ on October 11, 2016
Risk management tools

In work and in life, success is often the result of hard work and persistence rather than genius or inborn talent. And while some people are naturals when it comes to crunching numbers, others know you don’t have to have all the answers—you just have to know where to find them.

In quality management, making the right choice comes down to having the right tools at hand. In this post, we’ll look at 4 critical risk assessment tools all quality professionals should have in their toolbox.

1. Risk Matrix

The risk matrix is like your hammer or your screwdriver—it’s the tool you’ll come back to again and again in a variety of circumstances. One of the biggest benefits of using a risk matrix is that it lets you put a quantitative risk value on a hazard, which can then be filtered through company policy on how different levels of risk should be handled.

How a Risk Matrix Works: Risk is defined as probability multiplied by potential impact. A risk matrix breaks these out into separate scales and assigns numeric values to each level of probability and impact. This allows you to chart the values on a matrix and calculate the risk for each combination of values.

riskimg-003-copy_2-1.jpgOn a color-coded risk matrix, the hazard will fall into one of three categories: low (acceptable) risk, high (unacceptable) risk and moderate risk. This lets you see where additional controls are required to reduce risk to acceptable levels, although it requires management to determine ahead of time what precise level of risk in the moderate region is unacceptable.

2. Decision Tree

A decision tree is a less frequently used risk assessment tool, but it can still come in handy. It’s particularly useful for understanding how to apply policies or choosing between different modes of action.

How a Decision Tree Works: A decision tree presents a series of questions or choices that branch out into a variety of outcomes. For example, quality professionals in the food industry might use a decision tree to determine when a hazard requires a Critical Control Point (CCP). You can also use statistics to inform a decision tree to figure out, for example, when it’s safe to release a new product.

3. Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA)

Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA) outlines all the ways a design, process or product can fail.

How FMEA Works: an FMEA chart places the process step or design in question on individual rows, with vertical columns allowing you to map out:

  • Each potential failure and its cause
  • The effect on higher levels in the process, assembly or system
  • Existing controls and detection methods
  • Any required actions and associated details


4. Bowtie Model

The bowtie model is used to mitigate the risk associated with rare, high-impact events. It was originally used by high-risk industries like chemicals and oil and gas, but today the bowtie model is spreading to other industries because companies see how helpful it is for visualizing a complex risk environment.

How Bowtie Risk Assessment Works: The center of the bowtie diagram is the hazard or loss of control event under evaluation. On the left side are preventive controls, and on the right side are recovery controls that would mitigate the impact if it did happen.


One final note—while risk assessment is a critical first step in reducing risk, the truth is it does not equal risk management. Many companies mistakenly think they are one and the same, but in reality risk assessment is just one part of a continuous closed-loop process based on hazard identification, risk assessment, control implementation and continuous monitoring.