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Safety profession not ready for regulation: Speaker ​

Lack of national consensus limiting
By Amanda Silliker
construction site

The inconsistent safety landscape across Canada makes for a difficult environment for the regulation of the safety profession, according to a speaker at the Canadian Society for Safety Engineering (CSSE) conference in Halifax on Monday.

“There is a hesitancy and it’s a significant hesitancy to say, ‘Are we ready?’ And my view is we’re not, just yet,” said Paul Carolan, a safety professional with the government of Nunavut, who delivered the session at the conference.

As it stands now, safety is not viewed as a profession under the law. The lack of a unified, national approach is a major hindrance to achieving this status. There are 14 different acts/codes/regulations for safety across Canada. Even the terminology is not agreed upon — something that surprised Carolan when he moved to Canada from Ireland.

“I got a bit of a shock in terms of OHS and I got a sense of the significance of the differences, even to the point where we can’t agree on the name for a safety committee,” he said. For example, Nova Scotia calls it the joint occupational health and safety committee (JOHSC); Ontario refers to it as the joint health and safety committee (JHSC); and in Alberta, it’s known as the joint work site health and safety committee (JWSHSC).

There are also 13 different educational jurisdictions and no national accreditation for post-secondary education, Carolan said.

Obtaining self-regulation is a long journey that is very difficult behind the scenes, said Carolan, citing the lengthy process for the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) in Ontario who was granted self-regulation a few years ago.

“We believe we are the experts, we have knowledge and competence, but it’s convincing governments that we are the best and we are going with the best plan,” he said.

Oftentimes, people don’t realize that regulation shifts the self-governing body from a certifying body to a “public protector.”

“The accountability and the competence is all about the public. Whenever we become regulated, we have a registrar; we no longer are a membership or certificant body in the way that it is right now,” said Carolan. “That’s the scary thing for people who may not truly understand.”

Whoever the self-governing body may be, it would be responsible for title protection (protecting the standard of the Canadian Registered Safety Professional designation) and the scope of practice (protecting the activities of safety professionals, including stopping incongruent behaviours).

“That shift in what you can or cannot do, that’s why the competency and capabilities have to be at such a high level to convince Parliament,” he said.

Under the current system for obtaining the CRSP designation, an applicant completes a 3.5-hour written exam, but there is no interactive component — where an evaluator watches the applicant physically complete a task — that test capabilities.

However, such an interactive component would greatly increase testing costs, one audience member noted.

A final concern is that there is currently a non-unified position amongst representative bodies. When applying for self-regulation, the government does not engage in selecting one product over another. For example, Carolan said, the Board of Canadian Registered Safety Professionals (BCRSP) and CSSE would need to come together to form one representative body with two tracks: one for certification/registrar; the other for professional development and research. This would be a similar model to that of the HRPA.

Carolan believes a good next step would be for the CSA to develop a National Standard for OHS Professionals. He notes governments prefer the “consensus model” of the CSA because not only does it work with industry representatives (which could include the BCRSP and CSSE) but it’s also open to the public.

At the end of the day, the OHS profession would need to convince regulators it is trying to protect the public with the best, most competent people in order to be granted self-regulation.

“We have to produce a person that (performs) consistently and is open to doing the right thing anytime,” he said. “That’s the end game.”

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Comments (2)

  • BCRSP Governing Board Chair - Paul Andre
    9/25/2017 9:01:05 AM
    While I acknowledge that Carolan raised several pertinent and accurate points regarding the challenges of becoming a regulated profession, in my view, the important role that OHS professionals play in public health and safety means that they must be regulated.

    As Carolan stated, occupational health and safety jobs are not recognized as a profession under any provincial law. He further argued that the lack of consistency in the OHS acts, codes, and regulations of each province, combined with the challenging process for establishing a self-regulatory body, are prohibitive barriers to changing that situation in the near term. However, it is precisely the lack of legal status for OHS professionals that has allowed for unqualified people claiming to be OHS experts, thereby jeopardizing workers’ health and safety, to become unacceptably commonplace. Given that workplace fatalities and injuries remain at stubbornly high levels, that problem cries out for a solution — and regulation is the ideal option.

    Across Canada, government oversight of a variety of jobs that did not previously enjoy regulated professional status is increasing. Despite the challenges in doing so, home inspectors and human resources professionals are now regulated in Ontario. And every province regulates a continually-growing suite of health professionals that may include everyone from dental hygienists to diagnostic sonographers.

    Such regulation is driven by a desire for better public health and safety outcomes. As a key guardian of public health and safety in the workplace, OHS professionals should welcome and, indeed, advocate for the same level of oversight.

    Aside from the domestic precedents in other fields, such regulation would also be in step with regulation of the OHS field in comparable foreign jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and Singapore. Canadian regulators could also draw on the example of the Singapore Accord on the Standards of OHS Professionals, signed on Sept. 3 by the members of the International Network of Safety and Health Practitioner Organizations that established a global capability framework for the OHS field. This sets the framework for defining the profession in a global context.

    Since 1976, the Board of Canadian Registered Safety Professionals (BCRSP) has worked to advance the body of OHS knowledge and the competency of OHS professionals. We firmly believe that the logical next step in that mission is to achieve title protection for all qualified OHS professionals.

    As Carolan alluded to in his presentation, BCRSP recognizes that we are not the only representative body in the OHS field. We welcome collaboration with other stakeholders as we seek the highest standards of excellence and professionalism in the OHS field in every province. What is worthwhile and right is not always easy, but that should not deter us from pursuing it. When one considers the public health and safety benefits of ensuring that only qualified professionals are performing OHS duties, it is clear that our efforts will not only be worthwhile, but are necessary to protect working men and women across the country.

    Paul Andre,
    Chair, BCRSP Governing Board
  • We CAN DO this - Stewart Franck
    9/26/2017 6:52:10 PM
    Mr. Carolan and Mr. Andre both make excellent points.

    For anything meaningful to happen with respect to regulating the OHS profession, it will require educated, intelligent, forward-thinking, clear-minded people - not firmly entrenched in any one camp or organisation - willing to let go of some long-held beliefs and perceived notions, and focus on an end goal being something much larger.

    Mr. Carolan reported uses an example of different names for joint committees in a few jurisdictions. This is trivial when we stand back and look from a distance at the concept, intent and purpose of such committees. It matters little what we call them so long as they fulfill their roles and contribute to identifying hazards and recommending control measures.

    The same can be said of OHS legislation world-wide. Having worked in every Canadian Province (not Territories unfortunately), several US states, and a handful of countries, I found the law, provisions and rights basically the same all over when viewed from 30,000 feet.

    Canadians are pretty much the same from coast to coast to coast. And they deserve fully qualified, certified and recognised OHS Professionals they can rely on to help improve safety and health and prevent injuries and illnesses in every workplace situation.

    Stewart Franck, CRSP
    Workplace Performance Management

    P.S. To both Pauls: great to see you at the recent CSSE PDC in Halifax. Can't wait for another chance to have a good jam session! :)