Can we quantify how much risk people take each day?

By Ben Paynter

Roughly 90% of the people who die from unexpected injuries live in lower- or middle-income countries. Which raises the question: Did they recognize the risk they were incurring beforehand? And how often are they forced to be in such dangerous situations?

To help answer that, Gallup and the U.K.-based independent charity Lloyd’s Register Foundation have commissioned the first ever World Risk Poll survey to spot commonalities among who is taking risks, where, and what factors play into that. In some places, for instance, the idea that it takes great risk for even meager rewards may be institutionalized. In others, a misperception of what’s risky could be forcing people into all sorts of other unsafe behaviors.

The 2019 survey will poll at least 1,000 people in 140 countries to create a representative snapshot of the world. It will also continue to occur every other year for the next eight years to show whether lessons learned could lead to new interventions.

“If you look at the topic of risk, it covers a broad church of different activities,” says Andrew Rzepa, a partner in Gallup’s London office. In the United States, for instance, one obvious risk is just your morning commute. That’s been offset over the years by innovations like airbags and seat belts. In one community in Mongolia, though, people are far more worried about being attacked by feral dogs, according to an early test of the survey questions. People in less developed places  also are often forced to consistently chance getting sick from contaminated food or drinking water, or simply have occupations that are inherently unsafe or risky.

“For the first time on a global basis, we’re actually going to be able to map that out,” he adds. The goal is help governments, communities, and other public safety advocates spot various risk hot spots and the underlying trends that might be associated to shape all manner of interventions. That could be a public policy shift, awareness campaign, infrastructure improvement, or new regulatory action. “I think we can have quite tangible hard outcomes from this that will reduce deaths, reduce accidents around the world, and not just make people feel safer but make people actually be safer. That’s what this is all about.”

Lloyd’s Register Foundation both supports that idea and helped inspire it. They group works to improve the safety of the world’s critical infrastructure, including in areas of energy generation, transportation, food safety, and building design. To that end, the ideas for the poll was partly inspired by an earlier public report that the group put out in 2017 entitled “Reconciling Facts and Fears.” It looked at how perceptions of risk might be reshaping reality and the future.

“One of the premises for conducting that report was that with increasing technological and social complexity, risk plays a more important role in our daily lives and in our interconnected world, ” says David Reid, the communications director for the group. “To manage those risks wisely, we need to understand the public understanding of risk as a sort of critical factor for improving the decisions that we make. [Both] individual decisions as people, but also decisions that businesses make and the decisions that policy makers and politicians may implement to handle risk.”

While Gallup’s results will be public, Lloyd’s also plans to incorporate them into a new evidence and insight center that it’s building that will combine streams of accident and fatality data from any different partners, including the International Labour Organization and some employers. The group has also founded an institute for research into the public understanding of risk at the National University of Singapore to dive deeper into these issues.


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