Everyone comes into the field of Occupational Health and Safety a different way. Some study a related major in college, some start in an operations position and find they enjoy working in safety, and some even just get “voluntold” that they will be filling a safety role. So what is the difference between someone that does safety work when needed, and a committed Safety Professional? What does it take to make the leap to becoming a real Safety Professional? There are many answers to this question but the 4 key elements below will make a major difference in your safety career.
1. Passion for the work. Perhaps the most important attribute every safety professional needs is to be passionate about safety and protecting people. Taking time to realize that injury rates and safety statistics represent real people that were hurt. This can be a sobering experience. This realization can also lead to becoming a more serious safety professionals. Why do most of us do safety? It is because we care about people and we want everyone to go home safe everyday.
2. Training and Education. Passion is important but it will only get you so far. The world of safety is becoming more complex everyday and to be successful in this field it is essential that you get the proper training or education. Trainings can come in many formats and levels, ranging from a company provided computer based training to a week long course focused on health and safety. It is important that the training you receive is applicable to your work and that it will make you more effective. Don’t just sign up for a course because it has the word “safety” in the title. Take the time to research the course and make sure it will be a valuable experience. In addition to initial trainings, it is just as important to periodically attend refresher courses. This is especially true if you do not regularly work in all facets of safety. Conferences are a great place to look for continuing education courses and keep yourself up-to-date with the latest in safety.
Some individuals may choose to pursue a college degree or certificate in safety. This can be a great way to deepen your understanding and open doors to future opportunities! Again make sure any program you are considering is well structured and that it will really add value to your career. There are some well known full-time programs in safety related subjects such as Safety Sciences, Industrial Hygiene, and Safety Engineering. If you plan to continue working full-time while in school, there are also some online programs available.
3. Certifications. A professional certification tells employers (and clients) that you are serious about your career and about health and safety. The Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) are the most well recognized certifications in Occupational Health and Safety. To obtain either certification you will need to pass a comprehensive exam. These exams are very challenging and they will require you to study and prepare yourself. Through exam preparation you will stretch and grow as a safety professional.
4. Industry Knowledge. Good industry knowledge is just as important as a strong background in safety. To be a successful safety professional you must understand the processes found in your industry and be able to recognize potential hazards. This will make it easier to communicate with operations and to remove, or control, potential hazards as needed. You should take time to work with your operations group and learn your industry. For consultants, this can be difficult if you work in many different industries. However, a consultant that can speak industry lingo and explain processes will be valued far more than a consultant that has a difficult time relating to operations.