Impact of occupational exposure to chemicals in LCA

29 June 2015


According to Lim et al. (2012) based on World Health Organization (WHO) data, hazardous chemicals at workplace are responsible for over 370 000 premature deaths annually. Despite these high figures, life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) does not yet include a fully operational method to consider occupational impacts in its scope over the entire supply chain. This paper describes a novel approach to account for occupational exposure to chemicals by inhalation in LCA. It combines labour statistics and measured occupational concentrations of chemicals from the OSHA database to calculate operational LCIA characterization factors (i.e. intakes per hour worked and impact intensities for 19 069 organic chemical/sector combinations with confidence intervals across the entire U.S. manufacturing industry). For the seven chemicals that most contribute to the global impact, measured workplace concentrations range between 5×10-4 and 3×103 mg/m3. Carcinogenic impacts range over four orders of magnitude, from 1.3×10-8 and up to 3.4×10-4 DALY per blue-collar worker labour hour. The innovative approach set out in this paper assesses health impacts from occupational exposure to chemicals with population exposure to outdoor emissions, making it possible to integrate occupational exposure within LCIA. It broadens the LCIA scope to analyze hotspots and avoid impact shifting.

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