WASHINGTON—According to a new report from the National Institute for Safety Management, on any given day, the average American's life is entrusted to more than 2,000 different people who are complete strangers.
The report, which shows how any one of these anonymous individuals making a single mistake can easily cause another person's death, concluded that it is only through sheer luck that anyone ever makes it through a 24-hour period alive.
"People you don't know and will never even meet—food-safety regulators, bridge inspectors, whoever installed the gas lines in your home—ultimately have the power to decide whether you live or die," the report read in part. "We have no choice but to trust that these individuals are always being very careful and know exactly what they're doing."
"Which is of course something we have no way of actually knowing," the report added.
Jacob Drummond, a spokesman for NISM, unveiled a staggering list of strangers responsible for a person's life each day, which includes everyone from officials who make sure there aren't deadly toxins in the air we breathe, to construction workers who precariously hoist building materials over pedestrians' heads, to motorists who stay focused and don't veer into oncoming traffic during the rush-hour commute.
"Most people probably don't think about how fortunate they are that a jet engine has never come loose at 40,000 feet and landed on their house," Drummond said. "But it takes a whole host of mechanics, engineers, and quality-control experts—people who don't know you or your family and probably never will—to sign off on thousands upon thousands of tiny details to make sure that never happens."
"Elevator technicians, factory workers, the Transportation Security Administration, traffic cops," Drummond continued. "We even depend upon random people walking past us on the street not to suddenly pull out a knife and start stabbing us, which, when you think about it, is always a possibility."
According to the report, in the first half hour after waking up in the morning, most Americans put their lives in the hands of at least 250 different unknown people, including building contractors, water-treatment specialists, more or less everyone who works at the Colgate toothpaste manufacturing facility in Morristown, TN, and electricians.
The report also found that certain demographics had disproportionately higher levels of blind trust. For example, if you take the bus to work, you owe your life to an above-average 4,800 people per day, from the bus drivers themselves to fellow commuters at your stop who refrain from pushing you in front of a moving vehicle.
People who eat one or more meals at restaurants each day topped the list, placing their lives in the hands of more than 12,000 entirely faceless entities.
"Of course, the 2,000 people responsible for your daily survival are themselves counting on another 2,000, so if you factor that in, and take into consideration all members of your city, state, and national government, and all the individuals they don't know personally, it's more like 4 million people wielding enormous power over your continued existence," Drummond said. "And the connections fan out from there. One case study from our report found that if anything ever happens to dairy farmer Dale Ferguson of Wayne, NE, the resulting domino effect could leave as many as 156 million dead."
Reactions to the report have been mixed, with some pledging to continue their normal routine without worrying about all the people they trust with their lives, while others, such as 29-year-old marketing assistant Beth Howard, said they find the thought frightening.
"Now I feel like I need to be extra wary," said Howard, dialing her cell phone while driving on virtually no sleep and sipping a cup of hot coffee. "It's scary to think who I could be trusting my personal safety to."