Safety professionals often have one or more designations after their names, with letters such as ASP, CSP, SMS, CHST and OSHT. Do you ever wonder what these acronyms mean and what it took to earn them? These certifications apply to people with different experience levels, educational backgrounds and specialties in occupational safety and health. They offer safety professionals the opportunity to learn and demonstrate their skills.
But there’s a lot to unscramble in this alphabet soup. How do you know if certification is right for you? Let’s start with the basics.
Do Safety Professionals Need a Certificate or Certification?
It’s important to understand the difference between a certificate program and a certification.
“Often we hear about certificate programs — and you might think of the OSHA 10 or OSHA 30 — those are certificate programs,” says Patrick Karol, CSP, ARM, SMS, CIT. “You complete a course or a series of courses on a specific topic and you get a certificate. There are no ongoing requirements, as opposed to having an accredited certification.”
A certification is awarded by a third party. It requires you to sit for an exam and recertify throughout your career. For instance, the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BSCP) provides a five-year cycle for recertification.
“There’s a big difference between a certificate and a certification,” Karol explains. “At the end of the day, it’s about establishing your credibility and your level of expertise.”
Find Your Passion
If you choose to pursue certification, there are several options. Here are five of the certifications you might see on a safety professional’s resume and what they mean.
- Associate Safety Professional (ASP): A safety professional with a bachelor’s degree in any field or an associate in safety, health or the environment, and one year of experience where safety is at least 50% preventative and at a professional level.
- Certified Safety Professional (CSP): A safety professional with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and four years of safety experience where safety is at least 50% preventative and at a professional level. To earn the CSP, safety professionals must have a BSCP-qualified credential, such as an ASP or a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH).
- Safety Management Specialist (SMS): A safety professional who works part- or full-time in occupational safety or health with a minimum 35% of job tasks related to the management of safety-related programs, processes, procedures and/or personnel. They also must have 10 years of experience in occupational safety or health.
- Construction Health and Safety Technician (CHST): A safety professional who works part- or full-time in the construction industry (a minimum of 35% of the time) and has duties requiring technical skills and knowledge in safety and health. They must also have at least three years of experience in construction safety or health.
- Occupational Hygiene and Safety Technician (OHST): A safety professional who works part- or full-time in occupational safety or health (a minimum of 35% of the time) and has duties that require technical skills and knowledge in occupational safety or health. They must also have at least three years of experience in occupational safety or health.
Finding the right path will depend on the type of work you do and where you are in your career. For example, some emerging professionals choose to start with their ASP and then work toward their CSP. If you are interested in a particular area of safety and health, the CHST or OHST might be more appropriate.
“Know where you want to go, know where your interest is, know where your passion is and what exams you qualify to sit for,” says Karol. “Think about where you are today and where you want to be.”
Understand the Process
Once you have determined which certification you want to pursue, it’s time to register for the exam. The first step is to fill out an application. BCSP will confirm that you are qualified.
After you have been approved for your exam, you can schedule it. Karol recommends scheduling your exam at least three or four weeks ahead to allow yourself plenty of time to study and prepare.
When you pass your exam and earn your certification, there are steps you must take throughout your career to retain it. BCSP’s recertification cycle requires that every five years you accumulate 25 points.
Safety professionals can earn points in a number of ways, including Society membership, publishing an article, taking safety courses or attending seminars. Professional development conferences offer multiple opportunities for points, as you can earn them for attending and accumulate additional points for presenting.
Whichever certification you may decide to pursue, being certified offers the opportunity to expand your education, showcase your skills and advance in your career.
“Certification does so much for your level of confidence, your level of credibility, and says a lot about you that you’re willing to invest in yourself,” says Karol. “If you get certified, it reflects positively on the entire profession, and I would encourage anyone in the safety profession to get certified.”
Listen to The Case for Safety Podcast featuring Patrick Karol for more insights into earning safety and health certifications.
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