Figure 1 illustrates that workplace safety continues to evolve by adding layers of concepts and activities to its sphere of influence. Each lower sphere supports entry to the sphere above.  workplace safety evolution

For example, the introduction to latest version of ANSI/AIHA Z10, Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems (OHSMS), states that its adoption “fits well with organizations desiring long-term sustainable growth in a socially responsible manner by reducing injury and illness and improving overall employee well-being.”

Workplace safety may also be described as evolving in spheres from:

Independent  (self),

  • Dependent (supervision),
  • Interdependent (committee),
  • Interrelated (quality, environmental, etc.)
  • Holistic (global and sustainable)

Workplace safety has evolved from a focus on employee behavior, unsafe acts, and OSHA compliance - to a focus on culture, safe conditions and conformance with organization objectives.

Freedom to choose

The more safety evolves the more freedom one has to choose between what paths to take to achieve objectives. For example, mandatory elements, performance criteria and third-party involvement is required before an organization may be recognized as achieving VPP. ISO 31000 risk management and ISO 26000 social responsibility, tools that support the outer sphere of workplace safety, are not designed for third-party certification. Organizations examine the standards and apply only the elements that may help them achieve objectives.

Approach to OSHA’s HCS?

One way to determine your mindset about workplace safety evolution is to look at your approach to OSHA’s revised hazard communication standard.  If your focus is on the minimal compliance needed to train employees on new label elements and Safety Data Sheet format by the December 1, 2013, deadline, then considerable more evolution is expected.

If you apply the logic of ISO 31000 risk management; your focus should be on the context of OSHA’s HCS. Why was the standard revised? What are the significant changes? Who are the internal and external stakeholders to the standard? How will the various stakeholders interpret the content of the standard? How may external influences and trends impact how the HCS is applied? What application or misapplication of the standard may impact your organization from achieving its objectives? What treatments are needed to reduce risks?

Do you consider the HCS in terms of how it may interrelate with quality, environmental objectives, social responsibility, or even profit for the organization? ISO 26000, for example, contains a clause that encourages manufacturers to formulate products without use of carcinogens, mutagens, and chemicals toxic to reproduction (CMRs). What is the purpose of this clause? How does this clause relate to treatment of CMRs under OSHA’s HCS? Would elimination of CMRs from the workplace also treat social responsibility, sustainability and environmental concerns that impact the public? How would elimination of CMRs impact product quality? If quality suffers, will the organization’s reputation suffer? Does an organization’s reputation influence employee attitude? Will employee attitude impact workplace safety? 

The outer layer of safety evolution means organizations should be prepared to ask and answer these types of questions.

Fuzzy definitions

Concepts and activities at the outer layers of workplace safety evolution are not well defined.  For example, ISO 26000 contains a clause that workplace health and safety programs should address psychosocial factors e.g. stress. Is this the same concept as “well-being” mentioned in the introduction to ANSI Z10? How do we know when employee well-being has been achieved?  Are behavioral based safety programs that influence observed actions an evolutionary precursor to culture change that attempts to influence employee values, attitudes, and beliefs? Are an employee’s values and beliefs a metric for employee well-being? Are wellness programs that encourage healthy life-style, control of blood pressure and proper weight integral to employee well-being? Definitions will vary – and all may be correct.

Risk management

As workplace safety evolves its identity may be obscured. In the early days “hazard assessment” was the essential activity for workplace safety. Workplace safety has now evolved to where Z10 states that “risk assessment” is essential an organization’s OHSMS. 

There are few differences between the ISO 31000 risk management process and a typical safety process. For example, the risk management process has a central theme of risk assessment that includes the sequence of: 1) risk identification, 2) risk analysis, 3) risk evaluation, and 4) risk treatment i.e. control. 

Within workplace safety, risk is the probability that a hazard may cause harm. Under ISO 31000, risk is the effect that uncertainty may have upon an organization from achieving its objectives. Workplace safety may have evolved to where it is indistinguishable from risk management.

Healthcare practioner?

Does your job involve “Review, evaluate, and analyze work environments and design programs and procedures to control, eliminate, and prevent disease or injury caused by chemical, physical and biological agents or ergonomic factors?” According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics these job activities are for a “Healthcare Practioner” with the Standard Occupational Classification Number 29-9010. This is an evolution in thinking by the BLS of where workplace safety resides.


The evolution of workplace safety is best determined by the mindset of the organization’s leadership.  If your job is merely as a healthcare practioner defined above, there may be few incentives for you to ask and answer the types of questions presented.

Workplace safety evolves only where there is evolved thinking and actions. Sometimes this evolved thinking is prodded by inspections and penalties from OSHA or from some tragedy that reaches leadership that fully questions what “workplace safety” means and how it may be fully achieved. 

Each organization is challenged to reach evolved thinking and actions before there is an obvious necessity. ANSI Z10, ISO 31000, and ISO 26000 are just a few of the tools that may help organizations consider workplace safety at the outer rims of its evolution. If you haven’t done so already, put these standards on your reading list; and, then evolve your thinking and actions.