Job safety makes sense because of the economic costs alone. Somehow though, we forget how powerful that force is and turn instead to regulation.
Consider this analysis of the effectiveness of OSHA.
Fun facts from Kip Viscusi's article on "Job Safety" in David Henderson's encyclopedia:
Annual OSHA penalties for safety violations (2002): $149,000,000
Annual Workers Compensation Premiums (2001): $26,000,000,000
Estimated Annual Wage Premiums for Risky Activities (2004 dollars): $245,000,000,000
His point: Market incentives for worker safety dwarf legal incentives, which in turn dwarf regulatory incentives. The level of safety we see in the workplace today is about the same as the level we'd see if government just looked the other way. [More]
Of course, you'll convince few in the public or government of this phenomenon. And more than a few bureaucratic jobs with the last good benefits in America are based on not believing these numbers.