Growing number of options impeding self-regulation
Workplace health and safety is now recognized as a new risk to be managed as part of a well-designed enterprise risk management program. Increasingly, companies that seek operational excellence include achieving a safe workplace as a part of this quest. This shift has created a new demand for qualified safety practitioners and professionals. This demand has resulted in a growing number of universities offering occupational health and safety programming and an increasing number of organizations, societies and agencies offering occupational health and/or safety designations and certification schemes.
In spite of all of this work, safety is still not recognized as a true profession in Canada. At last count, there were more than 20 certifications and designations in Canada related to occupational health and safety. In Hiring a Health and Safety Practitioner – A Guide for Employers and OHS Practitioners, the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering has published a detailed listing of 18 of these. Certifications and designations are being added to the list every year. An argument can be made that this fractured landscape of certifications and designations is a major impediment to safety ever becoming a self-regulating “true profession” like engineering, law, accounting or medicine.
A safety certification is a qualification offered by a safety practitioner organization that specifies minimum formal education, qualifications and practical experience, along with a mandatory certification maintenance program. A good example of a certification is the Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP). This qualification would typically include a formal competency assessment. The Board of Canadian Registered Safety Professionals (BCRSP) sets certification standards for the CRSP, has defined a body of knowledge in its competency framework, administers a standardized exam for applicants and manages the certification maintenance process for certificate holders.
On the other hand, a safety designation is a qualification offered by a provincial or national industry or safety association that can be earned by the completion of a series of short duration courses. For example, the Health and Safety Practitioner (HSP) designation offered by Safety Services Nova Scotia has a program of training and other requirements that an applicant must complete to be allowed to use the designation. In most cases, these qualifications do not require applicants to possess any formal academic qualifications, do not include a mandatory certification maintenance point scheme and are not independently accredited.
At first glance, the need for 20 such certifications and designations seems excessive and begs the question: Should anyone be allowed to start up and copyright a safety certification or designation? Shouldn’t there be standardized requirements across the country for safety certifications and designations? Or should it just be “buyer beware” and we should allow this free-for-all to continue?
The Canadian Federation of Construction Safety Associations has finalized a process to offer a harmonized and standardized certification for construction safety professionals in Canada. The certification will be called the National Construction Safety Officer (NCSO) or Construction Safety Supervisor (CSS) depending on the province of issue. This harmonization will significantly reduce the number of construction safety acronyms in Canada. Mike McKenna, executive director of the British Columbia Construction Safety Association has been a big part of the leadership team working to achieve this goal. They have agreed on a standardized body of knowledge and have established the core educational requirements.
“There will be a national exam that all construction safety professionals will complete, regardless of where they are from in Canada. The exam is currently being vetted and will be finalized by year end,” McKenna said.
A continuing education and three-year re-certification system has been included, and this will apply to all construction safety professionals currently working in the field. With these new requirements and standardization, this new construction safety certification has sufficient rigour for it to stand up to the scrutiny and the standard of any safety certification.
Another example is the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA), which is working towards the introduction of a new safety certification — the Certified Transportation Safety Professional (CTSP).