A method for human health impact assessment in social LCA: lessons from three case studies
Journal article, 2018
Purpose Improving human health is a long-lasting endeavour of mankind. In the field of social life cycle assessment (SLCA), the importance of human health is often highlighted, and further development of impact assessment methods has been recommended. The purpose of this article is to present a method for assessing human health impacts within SLCA. Methods By using a systematic combining approach, knowledge and experience about assessing human health impacts were obtained from three previously conducted case studies. The first case study was about an airbag system, the second about a catalytic converter and the third about gold jewellery. The disability-adjusted life years (DALY) indicator was used for impact assessment in all three case studies. Results and discussion Both positive and negative human health impacts associated with the products were identified and assessed in the three case studies. For the airbag system, avoided health impacts in the use phase outweighed health impacts during production. For the catalytic converter, whether health impacts avoided exceeded health impacts caused or not depended on which time perspective regarding impacts was employed. Gold jewellery does not help avoiding any health impacts but caused considerable health impacts when produced at a certain location. Based on experience from these case studies, a generic human health impact assessment method was developed, and a life cycle human health typology for products was developed based on the method. The method provides a basis for analysis and interpretation of health impacts along product life cycles, and it is therefore important to report both positive and negative health impacts separately for different actors. Conclusions The developed human health impact assessment method involves the assessment and comparison of both positive and negative human health impacts along product life cycles. In addition to the products assessed in the three case studies, we suggest additional products that could be particularly interesting to assess with the developed method, including medicines, seat belts, other conflict minerals, alcoholic beverages and products with a high chemical impact.
Social life cycle assessment (SLCA)