HSCI 525/HAP 735 (3:3:0) 

Risk Analysis for Environmental Health & Patient Safety 

George Mason University


Course Faculty

Farrokh Alemi, Ph.D.
Department of Health Administration and Policy
College of Health and Human Services
Email:  http://gunston.gmu.edu/708/EmailAlemi.htm

Course Description

Students learn to assess environmental health risks (e.g. drinking water contamination, eco-system risk assessment), security risks (e.g. risk of unauthorized disclosures, risk of terrorist attacks), risk of adverse sentinel events (e.g. wrong side surgery, risk of fire in surgical rooms, medication errors).  Students build and interpret causal models of risks and test the accuracy of these models against extant incidence reports. The course includes qualitative and quantitative risk analysis models, risk analysis life cycle as well as methods of evaluating the validity and reliability of risk analysis. Bayesian probability models, probabilistic risk analysis, root cause analysis and Failure Mode Analysis are covered. 

Course Placement

This course is required for a planned program in Master of Public Health. 

This course is required in Risk Management and Patient Safety concentration in Master of Science in Health System Management.

This course is an elective in the Master of Science in Epidemiology and Statistics, in Certificate in Epidemiology and Statistics, and in Certificate in Health Care Security and Privacy.  This course is an elective in Health System Management Degree concentration in Health Information Systems and Certificate in Health Information Systems.

This course is open to students not enrolled in a health degree.  It is recommended to students focusing on policy analysis and security degrees.

Course Objectives

Upon completion of this course the student will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate knowledge of history of risk analysis in various industries

  2. Model how biological, chemical, and physical agents affect human health.

  3. Model the direct and indirect safety effects of major environmental agents, human error, and other causes

  4. Model susceptibility to adverse health outcomes following exposure to environmental hazards.

  5. Describe federal and state regulatory programs, guidelines, and authorities that control environmental health and patient safety issues.

  6. Use media in preparing risk communications.

  7. Demonstrate knowledge of probabilistic distributions for rare events

  8. Conduct fault tree and event tree analysis and analyze data from dependent failures

  9. Solicit and use expert opinions where objective data are not available

  10. Quantify human reliability and relationship between failure and complexity of the system

  11. Model uncertainty and measure risks in defined environmental health systems

  12. Create influence diagrams and estimate expected cost of an adverse outcome

  13. Demonstrate knowledge of health care risk regulations

Required Textbooks

  1. Robson M, Toscano W (Eds) Risk assessment for environmental health.  John Wiley and Sons Inc.  2007

  2. Additional course reading is posted to the web at http://hap.gmu.edu/735   

Recommended Textbooks

  1. Cox LA. Risk analysis: Foundations. Models and Methods. Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2002

  2. Singpurwalla ND. Reliability and risk: A Bayesian Perspective. Wiley Series in Probability and Statistics, 2006.

  3. Lachin JM. Biostatistical methods: the assessment of relative risks. Wiley Series in Probability and Statistics, 2000 

Course Requirements

To benefit from this course you need to have the following:

  1. A bachelor or higher degree from an accredited University. The course is limited to graduate students.

  2. Familiarity with the US health care system is not required but all examples are from the US health care system.   Clinicians, managers, analysts, statisticians, epidemiologists and actuaries are encouraged to enroll.

  3. Computer, modem, microphone, speaker, phone line and Internet connection. A fast computer and modem will save considerable time in this course.

  4. Previous background in analysis of data and working knowledge of Microsoft Excel is needed.  If you do not have experience with use of Excel, please take free introductory courses available at your University prior to or concurrent with enrollment in this course. Microsoft Power Point is needed for viewing some portions of reading and lectures. Flash reader is needed and provided in the course site. This prerequisite can be met by a previous course in statistics.  This requirement can be met through HAP 501. 

  5. Knowledge of  probability models is required.  This requirement can be met through a course on probability, a course in calculus or HAP 730:  Decision Analysis for Healthcare.

If you are not sure you meet the course requirement please contact the instructor.

Course Evaluation

Students are evaluated based on three activities: 

  1. A semester long risk analysis project.  Students work within their own organization and obtain reports of 10 incidences of a sentinel event.  A causal model leading to the sentinel events is constructed.  Incidence data and experts opinions are combined and used to examine the validity of the risk model.  Analysis is reported in a brief paper and presented orally.  Examples of prior students work are available through the instructor.  Examples could include analysis of health risks in a community from exposure to a chemical. 
  2. Peer evaluation.  Students are expected to follow the instructor supplied rubric to evaluate a project of another student. 
  3. Personal Diary.  Students maintain a diary of causal environmental factors affecting their behavior.  Data are analyzed using risk models.  Students learn how risk models can contribute insight into causes for adverse events.

Participation is key to making the experience of everyone a pleasant one. Internet courses are not only distance learning but also interactive learning. These courses benefit from student participation.  Class participation is worth 10% of your grade.  Class participation means that in each section, you should either ask a question (see how) or complete the minute evaluation for the session and rate the session. 

If you ask a question, your question will be answered on the same web page within 48 hours and the question and the answer would be available for all students to read and benefit from.  Class participation also means that you would become a member of a professional organization such as HIMSS, ACHE, IHI or other local or national organizations focused on your career.  

Distribution of the grade

Letter grades will correspond to
the following numerical grades:

Field Project


Peer Evaluation


Personal diary


96+ A
90-95 A -
86-89 B +
74-85 B
70-74 C
70- F

Student evaluations of the course are available through http://ratings.gmu.edu if you are using a George Mason University campus computer.  Alternatively, contact the instructor to receive last course evaluations by email.

Teaching Methods

Students learn through several different methods:

  1. Interaction with Faculty. Course faculty are available online and in-person. Recorded lectures are available online.  Students questions are answered publicly online so all students can benefit from the answers.  Lectures include hands on data analysis.
  2. Learn one, do one, teach one. Students learn better when they teach the concepts covered in the lectures. For selected assignments, students are asked to comment on the work of their colleagues using a rubric provided by the instructor.
  3. Use of technology. Students are expected to be familiar with Internet use.  Some assignments require use of software, provided through the course.  Student reports are required to be presented using multi-media (narrated slides or videos).  Numerous relevant web sites are found throughout the course. These links provide additional resources and a means of information exchange, professional networking, and project collaboration.

Course face to face lectures are scheduled over two weekends.  After each set of classes, students work on their class projects and interact with the instructor online.

 Topical Outline

Session Session Title and Related Resources Field Project
(due at end of semester)
Personal Diary
(due at end of semester)
1 Introduction to the course Select the topic of your analysis and discuss data sources with experts and safety officers


Select a behavior you wish to change





Analytical relapse prevention Write your final report.  Use made-up data.  Write all sections of the report except discussion.  Present tables showing the result of the analysis of your data. Create a Fishbone diagram and list causes and constraints of your behavior.  Prepare the physical diary.
3 What is probability?  

Maintain diary data

4 Discrete distributions Gather data on incidences of sentinel events.  Analyze the validity of the causal model.


5 Combination of causes

  Analyze diary data and revise the list of causes and constraints
6 Probability of rare events
Interview experts to complete missing objective data. Analyze the validity of the causal model.  Distribute your report to peers for evaluation and comments


Maintain diary data. 
7 Conditional independence
8 Modeling risk 
9 Causal modeling
Receive peer evaluations.  Improve data and analysis.  Prepare final report and presentation Prepare presentation of your findings and comment on the usefulness of causal analysis of diary data.
10 Analysis of environments    


Modeling diffusion of chemicals   Present your diary data and analysis


First presentation of field project Present your project  
13 Final Presentation of field projects    


Final Presentation of field projects    

 Exit interview



Enter Your Email Address

If you are enrolled in this course, you would receive weekly communications from the course faculty.  In order to make sure that you receive the information on time, please provide us with your email address.

Disability Accommodations

If you are a student with a disability and you need academic accommodations, please see Debbie Wyne and contact the Disability Resource Center at 703 993-2474.  All academic accommodations must be arranged through the Disability Resource Center.

More Information

See more information about course instructors.  For more information send email to Farrokh Alemi, Ph.D

This page is part of the course on Risk Analysis.  It was first created in Spring 2006.  It was last edited on 09/09/2008 by Farrokh Alemi, Ph.D.  Copyright protected.