Is there a statistical value of a life?
Ale, Ben
Hartford, Des
Slater, David
Download PDF

How to Cite

Ale B., Hartford D., Slater D., 2019, Is there a statistical value of a life?, Chemical Engineering Transactions, 77, 637-642.
Download PDF


In making decisions, rationality is often equated to economic rationality. This means that in every decision, the benefits should outweigh the costs, when both are expressed in monetary terms. Balancing of cost and benefits through monetary Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA), which is used more and more widely in health and safety decision-making, evokes the criticism that it leads to decisions in which only money counts; and all that cannot be expressed in money, or is perceived of no monetary value, is neglected. An important parameter in the CBA rationality, is the value of a statistical life (VOSL). Scientists serving decision makers in the attempts to monetize the VOSL have spent decades of research into what a reasonable value should be. These evaluations of the VOSL lead to widely varying results. This wide variation seems to move decisions on risks to life and health, from the political arena to the scientific laboratory. Scientists are required produce the right number after which politicians can then decide on the basis of CBA. In this paper it is argued that rather than attempting to harmonize on an average with large margins of uncertainty, the conclusion can be drawn that a consistent valuation of a human life cannot be expected. One should accept that standardization of the VOSL is limited by the - lack of - similarity in nature of the activity and the nature of the risk. In many cases one also has to accept the only available alternative not involving violence, which is a political debate, terminated by the more general rule of law or constitution on how to settle such a debate and then accept the decision.
Download PDF