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What's in a name? Professional vs. practitioner

The International Network of Safety and Health Practitioner Organisations (INSHPO) has also examined these terms and are working to come up with a global definition recommended for the "safety" world.

I have tossed around the meaning of practitioner and professional in my mind. I also did a little research on the Internet, and here's what I found on Wikipedia:

The main criteria for professionals include the following:

1. Expert and specialized knowledge in field which one is practicing professionally.

2. Excellent manual/practical and literary skills in relation to profession.

3. High quality work in (examples): creations, products, services, presentations, consultancy, primary/other research, administrative, marketing, photography or other work endeavours.

4. A high standard of professional ethics, behaviour and work activities while carrying out one's profession (as an employee, self-employed person, career, enterprise, business, company, or partnership/associate/colleague, etc.). The professional owes a higher duty to a client, often a privilege of confidentiality, as well as a duty not to abandon the client just because he or she may not be able to pay or remunerate the professional. Often the professional is required to put the interest of the client ahead of his own interests.

5. Reasonable work morale and motivation. Having interest and desire to do a job well as holding positive attitude towards the profession are important elements in attaining a high level of professionalism.

6. Appropriate treatment of relationships with colleagues. Consideration should be shown to elderly, junior or inexperienced colleagues, as well as those with special needs. An example must be set to perpetuate the attitude of one's business without doing it harm.

7. A professional is an expert who is a master in a specific field.

In the case of the trades, the site adds this interpretation as well: "In narrow usage, not all expertise is considered a profession. Although sometimes referred to as professions, occupations such as skilled construction and maintenance work are more generally thought of as trades or crafts. The completion of an apprenticeship is generally associated with skilled labor or trades such as carpenter, electrician, mason, painter, plumber and other similar occupations. A related distinction would be that a professional does mainly mental or administrative work, as opposed to engaging in physical work."

As far as practitioner goes, Wikipedia defines it as someone who "engages in an occupation, profession, religion, or way of life. Practitioner may refer to a medical practitioner or justice practitioner."

So how do these definitions affect me and my career goals? Perhaps, I will never see the Canadian government license safety practitioners like they do doctors, nurses, accountants or engineers — at least, not in my lifetime because I am old. But then again, maybe I will live to see it. 

There are some good resources for reading on the INSHPO website. I particularly recommend checking out some resources around "competency," as well as projects related to defining safety and health competency or educating employers on the value of competent safety and health professionals.

Some great resources from the INSHPO site include, the ASSE's Employer’s Guide to Hiring a Safety Professional, and the IOSH "Get the Best" Campaign Competence Presentations.

Go through these and let me know how they relate to us practitioners that work within the profession. It will be a basis for what some of the other countries are doing with “registration” or “licensing,” which could affect Canadian safety practitioners or professionals who want to work in another country.

So, the debate around competency and terminology for the safety profession is starting. Where is it now and where is it going?

Eldeen Pozniak

Eldeen Pozniak is a Canadian Registered Safety Professional, a Certified Health and Safety Consultant, a certified health and safety management system auditor, and a chartered member of the U.K.-based Institution of Occupational Safety and Health. She is the president of the International Network of Safety and Health Practitioner Organizations. She is also the president and owner of Diggins Safety Consulting, and the director of Pozniak Safety Associates. She can be reached through www.pozniaksafety.com.
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