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.