The safety and health culture has some historical issues to work out before it can progress into a new era and function.

Historically, companies owned employees as property, and injuries and illness were inflicted on the workers privately. (sidebar: Interestingly, today corporations are deemed more like persons than ever by the Supreme Court, and although this has certain ramifications for election “speech,” creative minds could also apply corporate personhood to the issue of safety and health. If we could end the separation between workplace medicine, ie workers comp. and non-workplace medicine, ie healthcare through a unified system for treating injuries and illnesses we would get somewhere, see below).

However, the whole EHS profession and management/ownership’s view of H&S still is molded from that early paradigm. The labor movement (what today we call unions) created the counterweight to the private right to injure workers and it set the framework for at least five generations, getting us to today’s situation which shows no sign of changing: H&S is a “labor” issue (see the federal agency in which OSHA resides) and the tradition still based on the original framework is “labor versus management” which means if you follow the math: H&S=Labor, Labor vs. Management, therefore “H&S versus management”.

That is also the reason H&S never appears in CEO management books or at Wharton et al.

The patient safety analogy to workplace safety or job safety is interesting but the difference hinges on the fact that there is no workers’ comp for patients shielding providers. Liability is unfettered for the providers of the services, and a risk-based management culture exists to manage this fact.

If we are now thinking of corporations like persons for elections, then why should these persons be protected from liability? If we did away with workers’ comp we would solve H&S once and for all, but we would need a functioning unified healthcare system to do this, and that won’t happen for a while.

How long?

I would suggest that in order to evolve into a more fully risk-based paradigm that results in high quality unified healthcare and health and safety for all workers, we would probably need at least two more generations or 40-50 years.