Safety, Employment and Economic prosperity for all

“How can we have such high risk jobs in this day and age – such as in the coal mine”?  — Question from a radio anchorperson.

      The recent coalmine disaster in WV is a stark reminder of the risks and realities we face for the many jobs in the Industrial Society we live in. However, the appreciation and true recognition of the dangers involved seems to be nearly missed, as we enjoy the goodness of the industries and their outputs in our daily life. With out being subjected to the harsh realities of safety and risks in their day-to-day operations, most of us live a life of comfort, literally insulated from the dangers of such operations.

      This separation between reality and perception became clear, as I heard the above comment from a radio anchorperson, couple of days ago in a radio interview. Of course the anchorperson merely implied, that we should have more robots doing the coal mining jobs and not endanger people, by them physically being inside the coal mine.

      Ask any one, “How are things made” and very likely you will hear nothing or get a blank stare in return! It should not surprise you if many believe that the rice and the wheat grow on a tree! Of course there is no need to learn or know any of this. As long as you get the rice nicely packed in neat bags and available in the supermarket shelves, who cares where it came from or how? Large super chain stores like Wal-Mart make sure that you get them even at lower prices, never mind, where or how the rice was grown. I do not suggest Wal-Mart go on a teaching spree on how rice is grown?

It is the job of every consumer to learn not only what they consume and its price, but also how it is produced and where, the risks behind such jobs and can we afford such risks or remain oblivious to such risks? After all, we live in a “Knowledge Economy”. Does it not mean that, you have to smarter than the fourth grader?

Higher risk is part of living in an Industrial Economy:

      The more we live with the comforts of the industrial society, the more we accept higher risks in day-to-day life. Every one loves to own a car and travel at high speeds (of course within the speed limits!). But do we realize that we are traveling on a rigid object of about 2000Lbs or higher in weight, at 60MPH? Do we realize that we travel at these speeds, with such mass, while sitting on top of a tank of highly inflammable liquid fuel? One can go on with many such examples. But, the point is that we should enjoy the comforts of industrial society, but also being aware of the dangers we accept and are willing to tolerate. How far we push the limits of performance and enjoy the comforts, while being safe, depends on three things: Technical skills and capability; Safety standards and Economics. The same three aspects also apply for “Manufacturing”.

      Manufacturing of any kind – to produce things in large quantities and cheap – requires the use of lots of machinery. Yes, these machines can be operated remotely, but only up to a point. After that we need human labor and skills right at the point of action. How much we do such jobs in a safe and automated fashion vs. how much of it we get done with human labor depends on technical limits as well as economic challenges. How much of this can be done safely – with out harm to humans, animals or environment – is also a matter of technical limits and economics. Finally, do we get such work done locally or through outsourced jobs elsewhere – such as in China – is also a matter of technical capabilities, safety and economics.

      If we do not push the limits of technical capabilities and safety, then more humans will be exposed to unsafe jobs and unsafe working conditions. But technical solutions and safety cannot prevail, if we are obsessed only about economics (i.e) cheaper the better. Are we willing to give up a few pennies of cost, for better and safe working conditions? Then the consumer will ask not merely how much it costs, but also where and how it is produced and what are the safety conditions? Such a consumer will question, “Why is the condition unsafe? Would I accept such unsafe conditions in my life? In my neighbors life?” Then the consumer will ask, “Who monitors the safety conditions and how?” Safety inspections and compliance, at this point will be seen as necessary part of our comfortable life, rather than mere intrusion of Government in our life.

Safety, Employment and Economic prosperity for all (SEE Party?):

 We did have safety inspectors to tell the mine owners what to do and how. We are told “There were so many safety violations by the mining company. Many of them were contested rather than they were fixed immediately” This goes to the heart of the question: Do we as consumers want the companies to be profitable and we want the cheap goods – cheaper the better – at all cost, or do we want these benefits balanced with safety conditions at work place, good employment for the workers, with decent profits for the companies? Safety and Employment and economic prosperity for all, cannot be achieved in isolation. They need a decent balance between the three. Such balance or trade off has to be agreed upon by all of us – the consumers – of the benefits of the industrial society, that we live in. Such balance has to be promoted through better learning of what we consume, where they are made, how and under what conditions?

Safety, Employment for all and Economic prosperity (SEE) will not occur, especially in a Global Economy, unless all consumers are better educated on how things are made and the Safety, Technical capabilities/limits and Economics behind such manufacturing. Such education for all is the much-needed transition to the so-called Knowledge Economy. We cannot get there merely as consumers of goods services in the industrial society, unaware of the implicit risks we are accepting through such consumption.

May be what we need is a “SEE Party” movement and not a Tea Party movement?

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