Social life cycle assessment (S-LCA) has been discussed for some years in the LCA community. We raise two points of criticism against current S-LCA approaches. First, the development of S-LCA methodology has not, to date, been based on experience with actual case studies. Second, for social impacts to be meaningfully assessed in a life cycle perspective, social indicators need to be unambiguously interpreted in all social contexts along the life cycle. We here discuss an empirically based approach to S-LCA, illustrated by a case study of an automobile airbag system. The aim of the case study is to compare the injuries and lives lost during the product life cycle of the airbag system (excluding waste handling impacts) with the injuries prevented and lives saved during its use. The indicator used for assessing social impacts in this study is disability-adjusted life years (DALY). The results from this study indicate that the purpose of an airbag system, which is to save lives and prevent injuries, is justified also in a life cycle perspective.