Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 7-30-2020


The risk management systems used in occupational safety and health typically assess the risk of identified hazards using a tabular format commonly called a risk assessment matrix. Typically, columns are named with words indicating severity, and rows are named with words indicating likelihood or probability. Some risk assessment matrices use words reflecting the extent of exposure to a hazard. This project was undertaken with the aim of helping the designers of risk assessment matrices select appropriate names for the rows and columns. A survey of undergraduate students studying engineering or occupational safety and health obtained ratings of 16 English language words and phrases for each of the three factors. Analyses of 84 completed surveys included comparing average ratings on a 100-point scale. Using the averages, appropriately spaced sets of words and phrases were identified for naming the row and column categories. Based on results, the authors recommend word sets of three, four, and five for severity; three, four, five, and six for likelihood; and two and three for extent of exposure. The study methodology may be useful for future research, and the resulting word sets and numerical ratings may be helpful when creating a new, or reassessing an established, risk assessment matrix.