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The 'Precautionary Principle'

A Working Legal Concept in the European Union

(also known as the 'precautionary approach' at international level)

Where there is uncertainty as to the existence or extent of risks of serious or irreversible damage to the environment, or injury to human health, adequate protective measures must be taken without having to wait until the reality and seriousness of those risks become fully apparent.


Legal Base

Article 130r(2) of 1997 Amsterdam Treaty (97/C 340/01)
OJ C 340 of 1997-11-10

European Court Judgements of 1998-05-05 ~ Ground 63 of Case C-157/96
& Ground 99 of Case C-180/96


Refer also to
  The 'Precautionary Principle'
European Commission Communication
Brussels  2000-02-02
COM(2000) 1 final


Principle 15
1998 European Charter on Sustainable Design & Construction
(updated 2000)

Human Health
A state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not just the absence of disease or infirmity.
World Health Organization

Environmental Impact
Any effect caused by a given activity on the environment, including human health, safety and welfare, flora, fauna, soil, air, water, and especially representative samples of natural ecosystems, climate, landscape and historical monuments or other physical structures or the interactions among these factors; it also includes effects on accessibility, cultural heritage or socio-economic conditions resulting from alterations to those factors.
1994 Energy Charter Treaty (EU)
and 1972 Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment (UN)



September 2008
Health Council of the Netherlands

Prudent Precaution
A Memorandum dealing with what the Precautionary Principle implies
and what its meaningful application in policy entails.

Click Here to Download PDF
(PDF File, 570kb)



In any endeavour, therefore, the following Question must be asked ....

" Is there a potential for serious or irreversible damage to the environment
or human health ? "

For design purposes, the Universal Safety Objective then becomes ....

The Protection of Human Health and the Environment

Points To Note

  • The process illustrated above must be transparent

  • Clear statements on reliability must be made with regard to supporting statistical databases  and  methods of risk assessment

  • Statements of uncertainty must accompany calculations

  • Informed Consent
    Consent freely obtained - without threats or improper inducements - after appropriate disclosure to a person of relevant, adequate and easily assimilated information in a form (e.g. oral, written, braille) and language understood by that person.




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