The continuous advancing journey of globalization or business’ relentless search for new markets and less expensive suppliers has gotten even more drastic. This global change has been made much easier by lowering of trade and political hurdles and, of course, by rapid technological advances in communications and transportation networks. It will eventually make “The (safety) world flat.”

Before the safety “stakeholders” get upset by these remarks, I suggest reading on...

Borrowing from the best-selling book, The World is Flat, by Thomas Friedman, the title relates to the term “flat” as “the playing field being leveled” or flattening. It’s true in most everything produced today, and certainly true in our safety industry, although many “stakeholders” still do not or will not recognize or accept it.

As Friedman writes, “...intellectual work, and intellectual capital, can be delivered from anywhere — anytime.”

Leveling the playing field

So, how’s that now any different than in today’s safety “arena.” The same rules, which have drastically changed globally, apply here, too — the game’s the same — “flat.”

The marginal differences in quality, which used to be wide, are narrow — very narrow — due to a level playing field.

The marginal differences in service, which used to be wider, too are narrow — very narrow, due to a level playing field.

The marginal differences in price, which too, used to be wider, are narrow — you know the rest...

Value, speed, convenience and specific solutions — yep, those, too! Very narrow.

Today all are “givens” (and have been for some time), but today they are much narrower than ever, and getting more so.

And today (tomorrow, too) there is more competition than ever. But now it’s from all around the globe, not just across the street or around the corner.

Good. Well, good for the end user — the consumer who certainly is the big, end “driver” in this new flat world but not the only “driver.”

Flat is good, if…

Flat is good, if you are a part of flat, not good if you’re not part of it.

Compatibility is flat, incompatibility, not.

Music is flat (no pun), rap, not (just kidding, I think).

Metrics are flat, metrics and imperial, not.

Celsius is flat, Celsius and Fahrenheit, not.

International is flat, national, not.

International (ISO) standards are flat, ANSI, CSA, BSI, DIN, etc., not.

Language is becoming flat.

Currencies are becoming flat.

Big picture strategies

So what are some of the strategies?

One, for sure, is global safety and health harmonization, and encouraging U.S. stakeholders to have major roles in more events such as the World Safety Congress, sponsored last fall by National Safety Council in conjunction with the National Safety Congress in Orlando, Fla.

There also is the need to encourage participation of stakeholders in more projects such as:
  • GHS (Globally Harmonized System) for the classification and labeling of chemicals by 2008.
  • REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals), which will most likely be implemented at the same time as GHS.
  • Control Banding, the complementary approach to protecting worker health by focusing resources on exposure controls.
  • U.S. leadership role regarding international standards-setting input to include OHSAS (Occupational Health & Safety Assessment Series) 18000 series.
  • Continued expansion of OSHA/ANSI safety & health global influence practices.
  • Refocusing U.S. manufacturers’ expertise in research & development.
  • Refocusing on emerging markets, utilizing expertise to begin with the end user.
  • Refining quality control to reflect the narrower margins of error.
  • Refining actual services rendered as value.
  • Refining cost margins and sourcing as necessary to compete.
  • Reconsider continuing educational opportunities to broadening margins of difference.
  • Reestablishing deeper relationships throughout channel.

In conclusion, this “flattening” of the world, of course, isn’t the end. Rather, it’s the beginning of new actions challenges and opportunities with new partners, many mentioned above. But new dangers also exist. How you balance the right mix of strategies for your business will more quickly than ever determine your position for tomorrow.

We are all being strongly challenged. But we are at our best when we are challenged. I am challenged. Are you challenged? Where do you fit in the global community?

Think about it.