Canadian Journal of Public Health

, Volume 101, Issue 5, pp 396–398 | Cite as

A Canadian Framework for Applying the Precautionary Principle to Public Health Issues

  • Erica WeirEmail author
  • Richard Schabas
  • Kumanan Wilson
  • Chris Mackie


The precautionary principle has influenced environmental and public health policy. It essentially states that complete evidence of a potential risk is not required before action is taken to mitigate the effects of the potential risk. The application of precaution to public health issues is not straightforward and could paradoxically cause harm to the public’s health when applied inappropriately. To avoid this, we propose a framework for applying the precautionary principle to potential public health risks. The framework consists of ten guiding questions to help establish whether a proposed application of the precautionary principle on a public health matter is based on adequacy of the evidence of causation, severity of harm and acceptability of the precautionary measures.

Key words

Public health policy precautionary principle risk assessment causation evidence-based decision making 


Le principe de précaution, qui influence les politiques environnementales et sanitaires, dit essentiellement qu’un risque potentiel n’a pas besoin d’être entièrement prouvé pour que l’on prenne des mesures afin d’en atténuer les effets. L’application de ce principe aux problèmes de santé publique n’est pas simple et pourrait paradoxalement porter préjudice à la santé du public si elle est faite de façon inappropriée. Pour éviter ceci, nous proposons un cadre d’application du principe de précaution à des risques possibles pour la santé publique. Ce cadre comporte 10 questions indicatives en vue d’établir si une application proposée du principe de précaution à une question de santé publique repose sur des preuves suffisantes de causalité, de gravité des préjudices et d’acceptabilité des mesures de précaution.

Mots clés

principe de précaution évaluation du risque causalité prise de décision scientifiquement fondée 


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Copyright information

© The Canadian Public Health Association 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erica Weir
    • 1
    Email author
  • Richard Schabas
    • 2
  • Kumanan Wilson
    • 3
  • Chris Mackie
    • 4
  1. 1.Division of Epidemiology, Dalla Lana School of Public HealthUniversity of Toronto, Community and Health Services, Regional Municipality of YorkNewmarketCanada
  2. 2.Department of Community Health and EpidemiologyQueen’s UniversityKingstonCanada
  3. 3.Department of Medicine and Canada Research Chair in public health policyUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada
  4. 4.Department of Clinical Epidemiology and BiostatisticsMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada

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