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Working, Specializing and Getting Certified as a Safety Professional: Where to Start?

Mar 17, 2023
Safety professional woman with glasses sitting in a meeting with colleagues laughing

Being a safety professional is a rewarding and respectable career choice, allowing for flexibility, variety, growth, opportunities for leadership and long-term stability.

“This is not a boring job,” says Colin Brown, Ph.D., CSP, CIH, CIT, director of business advancement with the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP). “The sky’s the limit. You can do anything you want to in this profession. . . . It’s dynamic and it’s always changing, and that means that we have to be well-prepared with the skills and knowledge to respond to that kind of environment.”

To keep up, safety professionals are constantly investing in ongoing professional development, often in the form of obtaining certificates and certifications that demonstrate their growing knowledge base.

These credentials are worth more than just bragging rights. This is underscored by the median salary of full-time safety professionals who have one certification, which is $98,000, according to BCSP’s salary survey. That salary grows as these professionals add more designations, such as associate safety professional (ASP), certified safety professional (CSP), safety management specialist (SMS), construction health and safety technician (CHST), and occupational hygiene and safety technician (OHST).

For example, the CSP certification adds approximately $27,700 to the salary of a practitioner, according to the survey.

“As safety professionals, you have an opportunity to really take charge of your own professional development and to build those skills that are going to make and keep you in high demand,” Brown says.

For emerging professionals who want to invest in their careers through certification, Brown and Jessica Richardson, M.S., CSP, CIT, CHST, STSC, senior manager of professional and organizational advancement with BCSP, explain how safety professionals can move through the credentialing process efficiently.

Specializations Within the Safety Profession

One of the first things many safety professionals consider is how they might want to specialize within the safety field. Because of the broad need for safety across many different types of industries and the many niches available within the field, safety professionals have an unprecedented opportunity to determine their own paths.

“Many safety professionals are generalists and that’s excellent because that’s what many companies need. But if you also find a particular passion or specialization, there’s a lot of opportunity for you as well,” Brown says.

Specialization can make you more valuable, Richardson adds. “Think about things like transportation safety. Right now, modular construction is on the rise. They’re building things off-site and transporting to them to the actual job site. Now we’re transferring the risk from the construction job site to the transportation professionals. So follows the risk, so follows the safety professional. . . . Our jobs are going to change and you can be at the cutting edge of that.”

She suggests that emerging professionals “do as much as they can as early and often as they can to find out what they like and what they're good at and become great at it. Get as much exposure as you can to the overall profession and really hone in on what excites you.”

Certification can also support specialization. As you realize the path you want to follow, gaining specialized certifications, such as the certified professional ergonomist or (CPE) or certified instructional trainer (CIT), can demonstrate your special knowledge and skills in that area.

Safety Certification: What It Is and What It Isn’t

Certification carries specific defining features and is different than similar credentials like a certificate or license. In its most detailed definition, a certification is a:

  • Professional credential
  • Competence assessment
  • Third-party validation of the four Es: education, experience, examination and ethics
  • Voluntary process
  • Evaluation of individuals against a standard
  • Requirement of continuing education, professional development and recertification

The continuing education requirement is an important distinction between certification and a certificate. Whereas a certificate is like a snapshot of learning in particular moment, a certification shows the development of a professional throughout their career.

Because of the requirements for  recertification, professionals who are certified attend conferences, take webinars, read and write books and articles, join industry communities, network and generally stay at the forefront of what’s happening in the profession and making the profession stronger, Richardson says.

“Your ASSP membership is a very important part of your recertification process,” she adds. “You get recertification points for not only being an ASSP member but also for participating in ASSP, so be a leader.”

Why Earn a Safety Certification?

Certification comes with numerous benefits for safety professionals. Richardson and Brown outline a few:

  • Opportunities for career advancement
  • Personal satisfaction
  • Recognition by peers
  • Potential increase in salary
  • Required by employer or government

They also stress the importance of choosing an accredited certification that is recognized by an accreditation body such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). This ensures the certification maintains specific requirements, which protects the validity and integrity behind the process of achieving it, Richardson says.

Which Safety Certification Is Right For Me?

Determining which credential is right for you depends on many factors, but primarily depends on your education, work experience and career aspirations. Talking to other credentialed professionals in the safety field can give you an idea of which direction to pursue.

“The longest-running credential is the CSP. For many, this is a career aspiration and a certification widely recognized by employers,” Brown says.

The Safety Certification Process

Regardless of which certification you choose to pursue, the process for BCSP certifications is the same. Here is an overview:

  1. Choose which credential is right for you and apply online.
  2. Meet the education requirement. This varies depending on the certification.
  3. Meet the experience requirement. This also varies.
  4. Apply. You will be notified when your application is approved.
  5. Purchase an exam. Candidates have one year to schedule and sit for the exam.
  6. Sit for the exam. Exams for BCSP certifications are scheduled through Pearson VUE testing centers and delivered via computer. As soon as candidates submit their exam, results are available.
  7. Maintain certification. There is an annual renewal fee and recertification is required every five years.

How to Prepare For a Safety Certification Exam

To prepare for your certification exam, Richardson and Brown recommend asking other credential-holders you know how to prepare. They offer several other suggestions as well.

  • Assess your strengths and weaknesses: Each exam has a “blueprint” that outlines the exam’s content. The blueprint is broken down into different domains that cover various topics. Brown recommends looking through those domains and giving yourself a score based on how well you know each topic so you see where you need to focus. His rule of thumb: If you can create your own questions on the topics, these are likely strong areas. If you struggle to do this, these are your likely weak areas.
  • Have an examination preparation plan: Build a road map to work on your strengths and weaknesses that focuses on consistency. Brown recommends setting a time and a space to study every day, even if you just start with five minutes at a time. “Being consistent builds up small wins and will help you study for longer and maintain it,” he says.
  • Develop a test-taking strategy: Think ahead to the techniques that will help you perform best on test day. Brown recommends reading items carefully and thinking about the context of each question, as well as having a strategy for ensuring you get as many questions answered as possible during each timed section. Above all, he advises, get a good night’s sleep.
  • Learn how the questions are asked: The way the questions are written can trip up test-takers who aren’t prepared, Richardson says.

One of most comprehensive ways to prepare for the exams is with our exam preparation courses for the ASP, CSP, SMS, CHST and OHST certifications. You can take these courses three different ways: in-person at a specific location, in a live virtual classroom or in a self-paced online format. Course participants receive study outlines, workbooks, practice problems, suggested resources and study aids, as well as guidance in areas where they need additional preparation.

Regardless of when or how you become certified, it is important to know there is a certification available for every stage of your career journey. It’s never too late to add credentials to your career.


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