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RR541 - Valuation of health and safety benefits: Dread risks

It is by now well-known that people typically fear the prospect of premature death by some causes considerably more than others – see for example Slovic, Fischoff and Lichtenstein, 1981; Thomas, 1981; Mendeloff and Kaplan, 1990; McDaniels, Kamlet and Fischer, 1992; Savage, 1993; Tolley, Kenkel and Fabian, 1995; Jones-Lee and Loomes, 1995 and Sunstein 1997.

In the light of this, the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) commissioned a research programme comprising three separate studies.

In the first study, by the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, the focus was principally on causes that typically result in instant (or near-instant) death, such as road or rail accidents. In addition, individual attitudes were viewed primarily from the perspective of people’s ‘self-focused’ preferences concerning personal safety.

By contrast, the second study, carried out by a team drawn from the University of East Anglia, Durham and Queen Mary, London, considered – amongst other issues – causes of death typically preceded by protracted periods of pain and discomfort, such as lung or breast cancer. In addition, the second study sought to investigate the public’s attitudes to factors such as the victim’s age and the question of blame or responsibility for the cause of death concerned. As a result, the focus was directed more towards people’s preferences in their role as citizens, expressing their views and attitudes with respect to general principles of social decision-making concerning life-saving interventions.

Finally, the third study - carried out by Michael Spackman of National Economic Research Associates (NERA) – was aimed at summarising and evaluating the extensive body of work undertaken to date by sociologists, psychologists, philosophers and economists on the important but arguably somewhat elusive and nebulous concept of ‘Societal Concerns’, to which extensive reference is made by various regulatory agencies including the HSE itself.

This report and the work it describes were funded by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Its contents, including any opinions and/or conclusions expressed, are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect HSE policy.

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Updated 2009-05-01