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Safety engineering and the value of life

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1 Author(s)
Lockhart, T.W. ; Philosphy, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI49931

It has been argued that any realistic approach to safety engineering must countenance setting a monetary value on human life. This is taken to be a consequence of the fact that most practical engineering designs involve tradeoffs between safety considerations and costs. Usually either it is impossible to produce a design that carries no risk to human life or the costs of implementing such a design would be prohibitive. The engineer often must decide what risks are acceptable. But to say that certain risks to human life are too expensive to reduce is to imply that the value of human life itself is not infinite, for if it were, the costs of preserving it could never be too great. However, if the value of human life is not infinite then it is finite and, at least in principle, it is possible to assign a dollars-and-cents figure to it.

Published in:

Technology and Society  (Volume:9 ,  Issue: 1 )

Date of Publication:

March 1981

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