This article is part one of a three-part series designed to help OSH personnel better utilize the Singapore Accord and The Occupational Health and Safety Professional Capability Framework, identifying areas for improvement within their own organizations and professional lives.
For part two featuring a self-evaluation checklist for safety professionals, click here.
For part three featuring guidelines for recruiting and evaluating OSH personnel, click here.
Which skills should each type of OSH employee bring to the table? What are those different types? How should hiring managers and supervisors evaluate OSH qualifications to ensure the right person is in the right position?
The Singapore Accord, a call-to-action signed at a 2017 meeting in Singapore, encourages OSH organizations to adopt a global framework that helps answer those and other important questions. It is a collaborative effort initiated by the International Network of Safety and Health Practitioner Organizations (INSHPO). Four key Society leaders participated:
- President James D. Smith, M.S., CSP
- Executive Director Dennis Hudson, J.D.
- Past President Terrie S. Norris, CSP, ARM, CPSI
- Manager, Professional and Global Affairs Laura Clements
“The Occupational Health and Safety Professional Capability Framework: A Global Framework for Practice” began as a 2011 workshop project at the 19th World Congress on Safety on Health at Work. The document, developed by INSHPO and 14 other organizations, including the Society, is a consensus-based tool for the global OSH community designed to guide the development of international standards. With the understanding that INSHPO member organizations in different countries will need to adapt the guidelines to address their individual needs, this framework serves as the basis for the Singapore Accord. INSHPO member organizations represent professional bodies from the U.S., Canada, the U.K, the E.U., Australia, New Zealand, the Russian Federation, Singapore and Korea.
What Is the Singapore Accord?
With different countries maintaining slightly different capability guidelines for employees involved in occupational safety and health, the profession has historically struggled to maintain a clear sense of what constitutes individual excellence, who should assume responsibility in different situations and which accreditations should be required for people hired or assigned to fill critical safety and health roles. The global framework put forward by the Singapore Accord seeks to uphold high standards of competent safety and health professionals and practitioners and lead the international OSH community in developing a common language to advance the industry.
The Accord was created to be used by six primary groups: OSH professionals and practitioners, OSH member associations and certification bodies, employers and recruiters, OSH educators, OSH regulators and the community. The framework was developed based on an analysis of industry documents from countries represented by INSHPO, and drew on each nation’s strengths in a way that allowed the framework space for cultural interpretation.
How Does It Clarify OSH Roles?
By outlining the differences between OSH professionals and practitioners, identifying the separate roles each plays in improving safety and health practices and highlighting the knowledge and skills each must have to fulfill accreditation and employment guidelines, the capability framework aims to help global stakeholders get on the same page about the answer to one fundamental question: Is safety really a profession, or is it just a job?
“There are hallmarks to a profession,” says the Society's Executive Director Dennis Hudson. “You have to have your own body of knowledge; you have to have Ph.D. programs; you have to have so-called barriers to entry, a license, a certification, some reason to say, ‘you’re in and you’re out.’ We are beginning to raise the bar globally for safety professionals, and that’s very gratifying.”
Starting with the basics, the framework addresses one of the most important traits all OSH personnel must possess: capability. Whereas “competence” indicates the ability to transfer knowledge and skills in the present, the Accord says, “capability” goes a step further, indicating an ability to use those intellectual assets to realize the future. It then defines how teams of professionals, practitioners and other OSH specialists can use their individual areas of expertise to establish better clarity, productivity and safety outcomes within their own organizations and the OSH field at large.
It then goes on to differentiate an OSH professional from an OSH practitioner. An OSH professional, the Accord says, should be university educated and function as a designer of OSH management strategy. OSH professionals, who usually work for large organizations or as consultants, focus on building relationships with senior managers as a basis for influence. They consider the wider context of business processes and regulatory influences when developing monitoring systems and participating in organizational review and change management.
In contrast, an OSH practitioner is typically vocationally educated and implements OSH strategies and frameworks. Communicating primarily with middle managers and subject-matter experts in larger organizations, practitioners oversee and drive OSH monitoring and compliance. They support safe working environments by maintaining and improving organizational processes, conducting training and largely operating within established parameters.
Separating the two personnel types, the Accord says, is part of a framework that crosses national and cultural boundaries.
“The safety community needs to work together,” Hudson continues, “and I think we’ve made some significant inroads in building a platform for that. It’s not easy. There are some very country-specific and culture-specific approaches, but I believe compromise is possible. Worker safety is what’s ultimately important, and we’re only going to get better at that if we get better at collaborating.”