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Open Access Methodology

The work environment disability-adjusted life year for use with life cycle assessment: a methodological approach

Kelly A Scanlon1*, George M Gray1, Royce A Francis2, Shannon M Lloyd3 and Peter LaPuma1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, School of Public Health and Health Services, The George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA

2 Department of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Science, The George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA

3 Concurrent Technologies Corporation, Johnstown, PA, USA

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Environmental Health 2013, 12:21  doi:10.1186/1476-069X-12-21

Published: 6 March 2013

Abstract

Background

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a systems-based method used to determine potential impacts to the environment associated with a product throughout its life cycle. Conclusions from LCA studies can be applied to support decisions regarding product design or public policy, therefore, all relevant inputs (e.g., raw materials, energy) and outputs (e.g., emissions, waste) to the product system should be evaluated to estimate impacts. Currently, work-related impacts are not routinely considered in LCA. The objectives of this paper are: 1) introduce the work environment disability-adjusted life year (WE-DALY), one portion of a characterization factor used to express the magnitude of impacts to human health attributable to work-related exposures to workplace hazards; 2) outline the methods for calculating the WE-DALY; 3) demonstrate the calculation; and 4) highlight strengths and weaknesses of the methodological approach.

Methods

The concept of the WE-DALY and the methodological approach to its calculation is grounded in the World Health Organization’s disability-adjusted life year (DALY). Like the DALY, the WE-DALY equation considers the years of life lost due to premature mortality and the years of life lived with disability outcomes to estimate the total number of years of healthy life lost in a population. The equation requires input in the form of the number of fatal and nonfatal injuries and illnesses that occur in the industries relevant to the product system evaluated in the LCA study, the age of the worker at the time of the fatal or nonfatal injury or illness, the severity of the injury or illness, and the duration of time lived with the outcomes of the injury or illness.

Results

The methodological approach for the WE-DALY requires data from various sources, multi-step instructions to determine each variable used in the WE-DALY equation, and assumptions based on professional opinion.

Conclusions

Results support the use of the WE-DALY in a characterization factor in LCA. Integrating occupational health into LCA studies will provide opportunities to prevent shifting of impacts between the work environment and the environment external to the workplace and co-optimize human health, to include worker health, and environmental health.

Keywords:
Disability-adjusted life year (DALY); Life cycle assessment (LCA); Occupational health