Is OHS a profession?

There are some in the safety profession who question whether OHS practitioners have the right to describe ourselves as professionals.   Comparisons have been made to the medical profession where one is either a doctor or not, a nurse or not, a medical practitioner or not.  This is an unfair comparison as the medical profession has a history going back centuries.  As a regulated profession, the history is shorter but that it is a profession is unarguable.

A profession focusing on safety is a recent development, only a couple of decades old.  I would mark the new approach to safety from Lord Robens but others may take it from Australian OHS legislation in the mid-1980s. (An argument could be made for the beginning to be from the increase in safety engineering in the 1960’s and maybe even Ralph Nader’s safety activism).  The safety profession is still embryonic.

The added challenge is that additional hazards and social safety issues seem to be appearing much faster than happened decades ago, as manufacturing processes change much quicker and society applies more psychosocial hazards in a work context.

Maybe it is not yet a profession but it is becoming one and perhaps we need to focus on the journey more than on the result.  Business and legal concerns have evolved just as rapidly as our approaches to OHS and becoming a profession is more complex than it was previously.  The level of business regulation, government oversight and reporting has never seemed higher. 

Previously business and employers could be trusted in some business areas.  In the early 21st century trust has evaporated.

One element of the comparison between the OHS profession and medicine is particularly useful to consider.  It is now an accepted practice that if a serious health matter is diagnosed we seek a second opinion.  We don’t seek a second opinion from safety advisers even though that “profession” is far less regulated than medicine.  That seems an absurd business practice to me.

For a primer on what is meant by a profession, Wikipedia is a good place to start.  It’s not authoritative but it is free and always a good place to start.

Categories business, OHS, Professional standards, safety, UncategorizedTags ,

2 thoughts on “Is OHS a profession?”

  1. I am fully aware that this line of work debates the issue of what is a professional. All I can say is from my experience just because you did a safety meeting at your work does not qualify you as a safety professional in any stretch of the imagination. We need to establish minimum standards for various levels of this profession. To be called a safety manager with no safety experience other than the OSHA 10 hour course is a disgrace to all who have worked and strived to better themselves with continuing education. Engineers, teachers, therapist, doctors, Interior designers… they all have to have the recognized education before they are to enter their chosen field. Why do we feel we have to be different. Is it because this field is new? Please, this profession deals with lives and attempts to promote safer behaviors. We need educated personnel from recognized educational institutions if we are ever going to get the respect of our workers and other professionals.

  2. I\’m not really sure whether it matters whether we are a profession or not.

    That said, moves to professional standards such as the Victorian ethics code and the requirement for continuing professional development and indicia of safety being a profession. The real risk of deciding that we a re a profession is where to draw the line. Is everyone doing \”safety\” a professional? Is the health and safety rep? Is it only those with qualifications? Where does practical experience fit in? Is it only those recognised by membership of a professional body and if so which one, (SIA, AIOH,….)

    As for the start of it all, well the 1980\’s if far too late. I consider myself a second generation safety professional and I started in the late 80s. My father was working in safety from the late 60\’s (I have a NSCA award flag and photo from then) (He also installed seat belts in our 1962 Singer Gazelle after reading the safety data…)

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