Associations across Canada are seeking self-regulation for the profession, but how will this impact OHS professionals themselves?
An Ontario If an accountant is asked to tamper with a company’s finances, they can refuse. If a social worker is asked to hide evidence of abuse, they can point to their professional duty to report. If an architect is asked to sign off on a blueprint that they just don’t think is quite right, they can walk away.
But if a safety professional were put in a less than desirable situation, what recourse do they have? Regulating the profession would allow safety professionals to fall back on their legally binding professional code of conduct, similar to the aforementioned professions, teachers, lawyers, engineers and many others.
“It’s going to give practitioners a consistent approach and also a reference point,” says Peter Sturm, principal of Sturm Consulting in Toronto and occupational health and safety instructor at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies. “If you’re an engineer or a nurse, you can say, ‘Well my profession requires me to do ABC not XYZ.’ It gives the messaging back to whoever you’re working for that you have a certain standard to adhere to.”
Having this backing is just one benefit of becoming a regulated profession, something various industry groups are working towards across the country. Being a regulated profession (also referred to as self-regulation) means that an occupational group enters into an agreement with the government to formally regulate the activities of its members. A statute is entrenched into law, which outlines various requirements for the profession. Given the nature of the jurisdictional model in Canada, the regulation of a profession takes place separately for each of the 14 jurisdictions — it cannot be done nationally.
Becoming a regulated profession must be guided by the public interest.
“You’ve got a set of standards — there’s a bar that everybody had to meet — so (the public has) confidence in that anybody who carries a particular professional title has demonstrated the knowledge and competencies required to provide a certain defined, minimal level of safe, quality, ethical service,” says Kevin Taylor, chair of the Ottawa-based Canadian Network of Agencies for Regulation.
When the application is made to the government for becoming a regulated profession, it is going to first and foremost look at if doing so is in the public interest. While you might get there in a roundabout way, the work that safety professionals do certainly protects the public, says Kevin Dawson, Halifax-based chair of the Board of Canadian Registered Safety Professionals (BCRSP).
The Alberta Society of Health and Safety Professionals (ASHSP) was established in November 2017 with the goal of regulating the profession in Alberta. According to the society, public interest includes: worker health and safety; future workers’ health and safety; workers’ families and loved ones who are also impacted by workplace injuries and illnesses; the societal costs of workplace injuries and illnesses (such as health care, insurance, etc.); and the economic costs of workplace injuries and illnesses.
“There’s a vetting process and generally there is some criteria that has to be met and then the government decides if it is in the public interest,” says Taylor. “And part of making that pitch is making a convincing argument that there is a need for it — that public safety will be enhanced and the public interest will be served by having that profession regulated.”
Becoming a regulated profession would provide title protection for safety professionals. This means that only registered members in good standing would be able to use certain professional titles that the regulatory body deems to be protected. For example, Safety and Health Professional or Industrial Hygienist could be protected titles.
“Under the current state, really anybody can call themselves a health and safety professional,” says Mike Fedun, president of the ASHSP and an OHS advisor to the Alberta government’s wildfire management branch. “People can claim to have a designation that they don’t, people can make up a designation, people can say, ‘I am a health and safety professional’ even though they have no formal training, not a lot of experience.”
The ASHSP is currently determining what titles would be protected when they apply for self-regulation, which could include something like Alberta Health and Safety Professional.
Unauthorized use of the titles would have legal consequences under the professional regulation, such as fines or jail time.
It’s important to note that there are two ways to go about regulation. The first is full licensure, like doctors and lawyers, where an individual cannot practise without receiving a specific license. What safety professionals would most likely achieve is similar to accountants: Only Chartered Professional Accountants are subject to the requirements laid out in the statue and it does not interfere with the right of any individual who is not a member of the regulatory body to practise as an accountant. Many professions are self-regulated in this manner.
Regulation also provides scope of practice protection, meaning only registered members in good standing are able to perform certain types of work as outlined in legislation.
For the safety profession, the regulatory body in each province would be responsible for determining what that scope of practice entails. The ASHSP is currently coming up with a list, but it will likely protect occupational exposure and chemical exposure work for occupational hygienist and high-risk work, such as confined space entry, hot work and working at heights, for health and safety professionals.
Ultimately, protecting both title and scope of practice will help protect the public from incompetent, incapable and unethical safety professionals.
“This is something that we see often in the health and safety profession,” says Fedun. “I can go out there and I can see people providing health and safety advice, people building health and safety programs, people providing on-site advice and also strategic advice that don’t necessarily have the education and the background. And right now, unfortunately, there’s nothing that can be done.”
A key element in becoming regulated is to establish a consensus on the competency, educational and experiential requirements required to join the regulatory body.
In terms of competency, the International Network of Safety and Health Practitioner Organisations (INSHPO) released a document a few years ago that provides clarity on the role of the safety professional. The Global Capability Framework for Occupational Health and Safety Professionals is the result of three years of consultations across 11 countries — including Canada — with occupational health and safety professionals, OHS educators and certifying bodies.
In 2017, the Singapore Accord was signed, which signalled a commitment from organizations around the globe to adopt the framework.
To test the competency of individuals, many professional regulators require prospective members to pass an entrance exam. This helps ensure all members have a minimum level of competency and acts to keep out unqualified individuals. For example, engineers are required to complete the National Professional Practice Exam and achieve at least 65 per cent.
In order for the safety profession to be regulated, it needs to have clear educational prerequisites to obtaining professional member status.
Oftentimes, the regulator will require post-secondary education be completed at an accredited institution. These institutions have been vetted to ensure their program matches the requirements of the regulated profession.
“It’s developing a process whereby the various colleges have standardization and a certain accepted level for what people need to know if they go to college and do a two-year diploma in occupational health and safety.” says Dawson.
But don’t worry if you’re a seasoned health and safety professional who went to school many moons ago. There is usually a phase-in period and there may be a special process to demonstrate equivalency or customized upgrading programs.
The BCRSP has been working with OHS educational institutions on accreditation, and it hosts a national education symposium that brings together OHS educators. At the next symposium in May, the BCRSP wants to present a proposed framework for accreditation, Dawson says.
Professions also must have an experiential requirement for their members. Prospective members may be required to complete a mentorship, sponsorship or apprenticeship activity. Some professions simply require experience within the profession. For example, Management Consultants are required to have 600 hours of consulting experience within the past 24 months as well as five years of experience.
With professional regulation comes increased public scrutiny. Members must conduct themselves in a manner that is becoming to the profession.
“There’s an expectation that you conduct yourself as a professional all the time,” says Taylor. “That means you have to change what things you say on social media, the way that you carry yourself, the way you speak. Now you are being held to a higher standard.”
Many professions have a general statement in their statute around a good character requirement. Professionals in good standing should actually welcome this because it helps prevent individuals from tarnishing and dragging down the profession, says Taylor.
If a member of the public has an issue with a member of a profession, there must be a process in place to lodge a complaint. This complaint will be reviewed and investigated by the regulatory body and any malicious or vexatious complaints will be dismissed. A legitimate complaint will be cross-checked with the profession’s code of ethics and standards of practice, and an alternative dispute outcome may be pursued, such as issuing a caution or requiring some remediation. The case may move to a disciplinary process, which could result in the revocation of professional membership.
Safety professionals may not be able to share information as openly as they are accustomed to upon regulation.
“As a member of CSSE (Canadian Society of Safety Engineering) and a CRSP, I can send out a message to 5,000 people to say, ‘This is the problem I have,’ and I guarantee you within five minutes you’re going to have a response,” Sturm says. “When you get to (regulation), once you start to give opinions, is it a professional opinion or you’re just giving information? I think there will have to be some clarity on that… because it could become a liability issue.”
On the flip side, a professional’s work is not questioned when provided. The advice they give and the tasks they complete are assumed to be of a high quality due to professionial requirements.
There is also a certain status that comes with being a regulated profession that may meanbetter job prospects and higher salaries, says Taylor.
A current lack of uniformity is one reason why Paul Carolan, a health and safety professional in Nunavut, doesn’t think the industry is ready for regulation quite yet. Such inconsistency is seen in the nearly 30 health and safety-related designations and the 14 jurisdictions doing things differently in OHS legislation.
“Despite what might be said, it’s a difficult challenge behind the scenes. I don’t think people are being truly honest within government because the appetite isn’t there. That’s a significant problem,” he said, speaking at the CSSE’s professional development conference in 2017.
In the spirit of uniformity, BCRSP would like to see the regulation of the profession unfold with individual regulatory colleges in each jurisdiction, but with an overarching national framework. One option on the table is for the BCRSP to set up legal entities in each province, says Dawson.
The BCRSP regulatory bodies would protect both the CRSP and the new Canadian Registered Safety Technician (CRST) titles as well as other titles affecting health and safety generalists, hygienists and ergonomists.
However, Carolan is advocating for the CSA to develop a National Standard for OHS Professionals as opposed to professional regulation. He noted 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.
“The CSA is accredited, its focus is worker safety when it comes to OHS, it’s balanced,” he said at the conference.
Another concern is inter-provincial mobility. Dawson says it’s likely an individual would have to pass a province-specific competency test to work in another province.
“Everybody realizes you have to have certain rules around fall protection, but Alberta might want to do it this way and B.C. wants to do it another way,” he says. “Every province has its own little set of rules.”
There is some concern around the costs of becoming self-regulated, too. Once the ASHSP becomes a regulatory college, Fedun expects the membership fees will be in the range of $350 to $450. For context, the current annual fee for CSSE membership is $205. But in many instances, the employer will pay for the fee. One of the requirements for a regulatory college is that it needs to be funded solely by membership dues — the regulator is not allowed to take money from external sources. The regulatory body needs to charge enough to be in good financial health and this is something the government looks at when an application for self-regulation is made.
“You need a strong contingency fund… because the last thing anybody wants, the government included, is to have a self-regulating organization go bankrupt because they don’t have enough money to weather unforeseen circumstances, such as court costs, regulatory costs, maintaining technology and all that stuff,” says Fedun.
Lastly, not everyone is keen on life-long learning — a key component often found in self-regulation. Regulatory bodies frequently have standards for continuing education so that members can stay abreast of all the new developments.
The time has come for the safety profession to be regulated because it has evolved tremendously over the years, says Dawson. Not all that long ago, safety was shopped around within an organization, or the individual who sustained a workplace injury became the safety person. Now, specialized training is required in order to be a safety professional due to advanced management systems, auditing protocols and keeping up with changes in legislation.
In October, the BCRSP met with the Ontario government and members of the opposition to explain the importance of regulating the safety profession. It is holding similar meetings in Alberta and British Columbia. Dawson says so far, it has not received any negative feedback from the government per se, but it is a process that takes time.
The ASHSP is working hard to develop all the requirements to apply for regulation. Fedun says the group is aiming to apply in the fall, but its goal is to have 1,500 members before it does so. After application, it can take another one to three years for the government to make a decision.
Amanda Silliker is the editor of Canadian Occupational Safety magazine.