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OHS Canada Magazine

Feature

Upping the Ante



In response to the growing demand for safety professionals who can better support workplaces in the changing global economy, new eligibility requirements for Canadian Registered Safety Professional certification will take effect on July 1.

With change comes uncertainty, but also opportunity and the prospect for advancement. Many are hoping that the new eligibility criteria for the country’s top safety title — the Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP) designation — will enhance the standing of Canada’s safety professionals.

As of July 1, applicants to the CRSP designation will require at least a four-year bachelor’s degree in any field, or a two-year diploma or certificate in occupational health and safety or a closely related field from a recognized academic institution. The two-year diploma or certificate must include a minimum of 900 hours or 60 credits. Applicants must also have at least four years of work experience in which workplace health and safety comprises at least half of their professional duties.

Prior to these changes, applicants needed only three years of work experience. A university degree was not required and a one-year diploma, instead of one with a two-year duration, would suffice. Dave Rebbitt, a safety consultant with Rarebit Consulting in Fort McMurray, sees the changes to the eligibility criteria for CRSP certification as “encouraging signs and a positive direction” that will improve safety across the board. “I think it is a good thing,” he says.

Canada’s safety profession is undergoing a transformation. The move by the Board of Canadian Registered Safety Professionals (BCRSP) to raise the bar for those seeking certification as occupational-safety professionals is adding fuel to the pace of change, according to Paul Carolan, a safety professional with the Government of Nunavut in Iqaluit.

“The new criteria that begins this July is another forward step,” Carolan says, “and brings our profession closer to other professions in terms of academic timelines.”

MAKING WAVES

The introduction of more stringent requirements relating to applicants’ education level and work experience is perhaps the most noteworthy change to the CRSP designation — changes that the Board believes will improve opportunities for safety professionals and bolster their recognition and influence in the industry.

According to BCRSP, colleges and universities are supportive of the changes and have indicated that they will respond to the new requirements with modifications to their program-development initiatives. The Board meets with educational institutions twice a year to keep them abreast of developments to the certification scheme so that institutions can respond and align their programs with the new requirements accordingly.

For Paul Andre, chair of the BCRSP, the new certification requirements reflect the changing landscape of the safety industry. “As a profession starts to gain some acceptance and be viewed as a profession, it will naturally evolve. And that is what’s happening here with this certification scheme.”

The new requirements will also bring Canadian-certified CRSP designates more in step with safety counterparts in other parts of the world. According to the BCRSP website, Canada is lagging behind countries like the United States, United Kingdom, Europe and Australia, which impose a higher standard of education and experience in their oh&s professional certification schemes.

“Raising the bar on the CRSP certification standard will further enable opportunities for mobility and transportability of credentials through Memorandum of Understanding (MOUs) with like-minded organizations,” the BCRSP website states.

One of the questions surrounding the new CRSP certification requirements is whether it will raise workplace-safety standards. As occupational-safety needs continue to morph, employers are looking for practitioners with the right skill sets, education and experience, and the Board is responding accordingly.

“We are continually benchmarking internationally with like organizations to ensure the progression of the profession, and the changes to the certification scheme here in Canada is keeping pace with our partners from abroad,” Andre explains.

In addition to modifying CRSP certification requirements, the Board also seeks to provide employers with two types of safety professionals by introducing the Canadian Registered Safety Technician (CRST) scheme. The difference between the two designations is that a CRSP designs, leads and manages an organization’s safety-management system, while a CRST is responsible for implementing those safety protocols.

The new CRST certification, announced last July, is among the latest development that BCRSP has implemented of late. Approval of the new certification was driven by the recognition that the “gold standard” designation of CRSP may not cater to the needs of all safety professionals.

The development of this second certification scheme, which has less stringent criteria, started in 2016 with the formation of a Technician Certification Steering Committee. A focus group and validation study were subsequently held to confirm the competencies required of a CRST. The first intake of CRST applicants is expected to start later this year, and the first CRST examination will be scheduled for 2019.

“What we are trying to do is move the oh&s profession forward,” Andre says. “At the end of day, these improvements would support better outcomes for society as a whole with fewer fatalities and fewer people being hurt at work.”

LEFT HAND, RIGHT HAND

In Canada, dozens of professions like doctors, plumbers, accountants and engineers are regulated to protect public health and safety. Regulated occupations are controlled by provincial, territorial or federal law and governed by a regulatory body. Practitioners of a regulated profession must obtain a certificate, licence or registration in order to use the reserved title for the occupation or obtain the exclusive right to practise the occupation.

About 20 per cent of jobs in Canada are in regulated occupations, according to information from the Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials in Toronto. Non-regulated occupations, on the other hand, refer to professions or trades for which there is no legal requirement or restriction on practice with regard to licences, certificates, or registration.

Canada’s safety profession is among the non-regulated professions, because the law does not regard it as a skilled trade. Another obstacle to the lack of regulation in this industry is the fact that there are 14 different acts governing workplace safety across the country, with each jurisdiction using two regulatory frameworks: one for the province in question and the other for federally regulated workplaces.

“Any kind of national safety initiative in Canada faces significant hurdles,” Rebbitt says. “It is difficult to get a national anything in safety. If you are working in Toronto, then you are regulated by the Ontario Health and Safety Act. Every province has its own quirks, and this makes it difficult for any national safety organization to be successful.”

Apart from the fact that none of the 14 jurisdictions recognize a safety personnel as a regulated professional, there is also no registrar system in place in any of these jurisdictions. The lack of a unified approach means that there is no national agreement on how to regulate the safety profession.

Carolan believes that this lack of clarity and cohesiveness manifests itself in various ways: the absence of regulatory harmonization and reform in matters pertaining to workplace health and safety; the lack of coordination in course content of post-secondary institutions, knowledge transfer and assessment methodologies; limited unity among safety membership or certificant organizations; and failure among industry partners to set basic Canadian standards.

Citing Australia and the European Union as shining examples of oh&s professionalism, Carolan says these countries have advocated for increased consistency and transparency among regulatory, educational and membership organizations. Canada’s safety profession, on the other hand, has too many significant competency gaps, with academia being one example.

Unlike other professions like law, medicine, accounting, engineering and science that have managed to move past these jurisdictional barriers and their respective national accreditation boards by working directly with educational institutions on content materials and expected levels of competency and capabilities upon completion of their academic training, there is currently no  harmonization among the 10 provinces and three territories on more than 50 oh&s content available across Canada at the certificate, diploma, undergraduate or doctoral levels, since educational issues come under provincial jurisdiction.

“If you are a doctor, an engineer or an attorney, they all have consistency in their education requirements. The reason for this is that they have all developed a relationship, through regulation, with the professional body, such as the law society and accredited institutions that offer law courses,” Carolan explains. “The journey to become a safety professional is consistently inconsistent, so it is not good.”

EXPERIENCE MATTERS

Aside from the lack of consistency in oh&s academic programs for Canada’s top safety title, critics also take aim at the designation’s experience component. As a CRSP, Troy Winters, an Ottawa-based senior officer of health and safety for the Canadian Union of Public Employees, would prefer that requirement changes to the designation address applicants’ hands-on experience as opposed to the amount of time spent in a classroom. While he believes that more education does not hurt, practical skills are needed far more critically. For this to happen, Winters thinks that engagement with all relevant stakeholders needs to occur.

“This is critical as ultimately, it is the employers who will or will not hire this new wave of professionals,” Winters suggests. “Workers need to know that whatever is developed is actually working in their best interest, or there will be no confidence. And we need a strong, central organization to run and maintain the integrity of the whole system.” Issues like certification, initial and continuing education and ethical practice needs to be taken seriously, he adds.

Carolan believes that safety veterans across Canada are spot on with regards to their concern about the deficit in practical skills among budding oh&s professionals who have recently graduated from college and university programs. He stresses that students attending college or university must be able to perform key skills, such as report writing, conducting inspections, interviews, investigations and have the ability to present basic presentations, briefings and safety talks.

“The above tasks are the most frequently used skills that safety practitioners do daily at different levels, and yet we only test the knowledge component,” Carolan says. “Knowing and doing are two very distinct components within a competent professional. None of these skills are practically assessed to an agreed standard within Canada.”

Rebbitt estimates that there are approximately 35,000 workers in Canada who have health and safety responsibilities in their jobs, but only roughly 5,000 of them are CRSP certified. “CRSPs are really outnumbered in the workplace, and they have very poor market penetration in their target market,” he says.

And steps are being taken to improve the industry. Before the introduction of the CRST certification, the CRSP designation was the only option available, and its stringent requirements meant a huge barrier to entry.

“BCRSP offered little in the way of a career progression like some of the other agencies in other countries, where you can start as a trained supervisor and progress to a technician level or practitioner level before you get to the professional level,” Rebbitt says.

With the introduction of the new CRST designation, safety professionals now have an entry level through which they can practise as a registered safety technician before making the jump to certification as a CRSP. “It encourages continuous learning and a progression instead of having just one level like BCRSP has had since 1976. That was a huge mountain to climb,” Rebbitt adds.

Another step forward is the announcement in February of the partnership between BCRSP and the Canadian Society of Safety Engineers (CSSE) to create a structure that would enhance collaboration between the two agencies and support the regulation of Canada’s safety profession. In this partnership, BCRSP will position itself as the certifying body while CSSE serves as the member-services organization providing education, professional development and resources. Areas of overlap between the two agencies will also be identified and streamlined.

“The resulting changes will sustain two autonomous organizations, which operate with greater role clarity under a unified, formal and comprehensive approach,” a joint statement from both agencies states. “This effort will eventually create a new distinct organization to oversee the accreditation of educational institutions offering oh&s certificate, diploma and degree programs.”

Rebbitt welcomes this development. So does Carolan, who has previously served on two national accreditation boards in Europe and is confident that this direction will generate momentum and result in “new levels of competencies and capabilities” among safety professionals.

With regards to how the changes in certification requirements affect existing current CRSPs, Andre says BCRSP will offer equivalent programs or courses for certified safety professionals to upgrade their credentials. He adds that the board is partnering with Ryerson University to offer a series of modules to those who do not meet the requirements. The modules, offered online free of charge, will be made available as of July.

Canada’s unique legislative landscape and its individuated approach towards workplace-safety regulation mean that there are differing opinions and fingers in the pie, Rebbitt suggests. But he stresses that overcoming these obstacles is the only way to galvanize the profession and raise industry standards.

“Sitting back and claiming leadership in the gold standard in certification is not likely to be successful, because if the BCRSP doesn’t evolve, it will be redundant,” Rebbitt says. “When you have a poor market penetration and continue not to do anything, you can be the next Kodak.”

Jeff Thorne, a training and consulting manager with Occupational Safety Group Inc. in London, Ontario, thinks that the higher CRSP-certification standards bode well for the industry. “By setting out these core competencies, it really defines what the expectation is of a safety professional in Canada. The core competencies elements were not clearly defined before.”

For Sylvia Boyce, Toronto-based health and safety coordinator with United Steelworkers union for Ontario and Atlantic Canada, the best health and safety knowledge and experience is acquired on the ground: through certification as a joint health and safety committee representative and working closely with the union and management to identify and eliminate occupational hazards. As for non-unionized workplaces, reaching out to workers themselves to understand the operational risks and constrains is key. “They are the ones who know the workplace more than anybody, and their opinions should weigh,” Boyce says.

Unquestionably, Canada’s safety profession is poised for growth and change. “For any professional, the day you stop learning and bettering yourself is the day that you stop being a professional,” says Peter Sturm, a safety consultant in Toronto. “The profession and business world is moving at such a rapid and exponential rate of change. What a great time to be a safety professional.”

Kelly Putter is a writer in Beamsville, Ontario.