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.”