It has been argued that OHS has developed and evolved through a technical age, a human factors age and a management systems age or through a technical wave, a systems wave and a culture wave. A fourth age of safety has been described as the integration age. As the limitations of OHS management systems and safety rules that attempt to control behaviour are becoming evident, it is proposed that we are moving into a fifth age of safety, the ‘adaptive age'; an age which transcends rather than replaces the other ages of safety. The adaptive age embraces adaptive cultures and resilience engineering and requires a change in perspective from human variability as a liability and in need of control, to human variability as an asset and important for safety. Embracing variability as an asset challenges the comfort of management. However, the gap between work as imagined and work as performed and the failure of OHS management systems and safety rules to adequately control risk mean that a new perspective is required.