World-Class Safety Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

World-Class Safety Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

The idea of “safety” doesn’t always translate well in many parts of the world.

We often hear the superlative “world-class” used to describe things like educational programs, manufacturing operations, healthcare facilities and athletic competitions. Even styles of pizza have been described as world-class (and I’ve certainly done my part in sampling pizzas around the globe). Usually, the description of “world-class” simply means that something is “the best of its kind in the world.” But as an editor, I focus on the literal meaning of words, which gets me to wondering: If something is best in the world, what’s the overall quality of that world?

We’ve all seen movies and TV shows where the main character—in a moment of abject desperation—contemplates, “What would my life be like if I could start it all over again as another person?” This being a magazine focused on EHS, let’s take that premise and apply it to safety: Let’s say you’re offered a totally random shot at being any one of the world’s 7.7 billion people—with no guarantees of what country you’d live in, who your parents would be, your gender, your race, your genetic makeup. Would you take that chance of coming back as somebody else?

While you mull over that decision, here are a few statistics to consider:

• The United States represents just over 4% of the world’s population, so chances are extremely good that your new self would be living nowhere near the U.S. You wouldn’t have to endure any more non-stop “Democrats vs. Republicans” demagoguery, so that’s a plus; then again, chances are pretty high you wouldn’t even be allowed to vote at all.
• More than 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 per day, and 80% of the total world population (more than 6 billion) live on less than $10 per day. To put a positive spin on it, though, all your angst about your 401(k) and your IRA and any other investments would immediately vanish.
• Roughly 40 million people (or to look at it another way, one in every 200 people) are victims of some form of slavery, usually forced labor. Sorry, there’s no silver lining here.
• At least 300 million people (roughly 4% of the world) live in a war zone. That’s just a little less than the population of the United States. No bright side here, either.
• A few other points to consider: One out of every nine people in the world is chronically undernourished. One out of every eight people has no access to clean water. And one out of every five lacks adequate housing.

So what do you think about your chances of being reborn into a safer and healthier environment than the one you’re living in now? I certainly would decline the offer to play “reincarnation roulette,” and if I had to venture a guess, I’d assume most of you would, too. Looking at it from the opposite viewpoint, though, there are a lot of people in this world who would gladly and instantly trade places with you if they were given the chance.

Safety, after all, means different things to different people, depending on the context. EHS professionals in the U.S. do an exemplary job of ensuring their workforces go home at the end of the day in the same condition they arrived. And their workers go to sleep every night behind locked doors in a warm home under clean sheets, with plumbing, electricity and refrigeration at their disposal. 

But if we look at the entire world, especially at developing countries where the majority of the world’s population lives, many of the people who produce the goods and services you use everyday don’t always make it home safely at night, if they even have a home at all.

Certainly the U.S. doesn’t have a monopoly on best-in-class safety programs, but clearly there are many areas throughout the world where “safety” itself is a rarely-uttered concept. It’s our hope that the best practices that we report on here illustrate how lives can be and are being transformed through the dedication and perseverance of safety professionals, and that those lessons learned are shared not only throughout the country, but throughout the world.

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