The health-based targets of 1 in 10,000 for infection and 10-6 disability adjusted life years (DALYs) per person per year are increasingly being considered, or have already been adopted, to define microbial safety targets for water. The aim of this paper is to convey information about how these two targets compare by converting each of the target values to a common metric. The metric chosen for viral (rotavirus and norovirus) and protozoan (Cryptosporidium) reference pathogens is the estimated maximum number of annual drinking water-associated cases of acute diarrhoeal disease tolerated. For the reference bacterial pathogen Campylobacter, sequelae to acute diarrhoeal illness have also been considered in estimating the tolerable number of cases for the DALY target. Also investigated is whether non-compliance with targets would be detected as a waterborne disease outbreak by the health surveillance system in an extreme hypothetical situation whereby all tolerable cases per annum occurred as a single event. The paper highlights that verification of compliance with targets cannot be demonstrated by the absence of reported drinking water-associated outbreaks alone and concludes that introduction of a quantitative health-based outcome for drinking water in Australia would help improve water quality management by providing a common goal directly linked to health outcomes.