OHS is an emerging profession that is often not well defined, locally or globally. The scope and nature of the role, education requirements and regulatory context vary across and even within countries. Perceptions of the role, including recognition by employers and the community, also vary both across and within countries.
The OHS role has been developing over the last half century from that of a technical compliance officer, educated via a vocational track and mainly engaged at lower levels in the organization, providing technical advice focused on compliance, personal protective equipment and a reactive response, to one that is influencing, engaging and coaching all levels of the organization, including senior management. OHS professionals are increasingly being recognized as strategic partners who facilitate the integration of OHS into the overall function of the organization. OHS education is changing, as OHS professionals and the organizations that employ them are increasingly demanding university-level professional qualifications that meet professional accreditation requirements.
While there may be a range of OHS roles in the workplace, for the purposes of certification the Safety Institute of Australia has recognized the need to define the OHS role in three clear categories, the vocationally educated Certified OHS Practitioner, the university educated Certified OHS Professional, and the Chartered OHS Professional who combines high level OHS expertise with skills and experience in engaging with senior management. These three roles are briefly defined below.
OHS Practitioners are implementers of strategy and actions usually designed by an OHS Professional. They support a safe working environment by maintaining OHS administrative processes, conducting basic training and using a range of state of the art tools, processes and standard practice solutions to OHS risks and their management, particularly aimed at routine and well-known processes and work. They oversee and drive monitoring and compliance in relation to technical and behavioural risk controls. They are likely to have a focus on the workplace and the organisation’s primary processes and communicate predominantly at middle management, supervisor and shop-floor levels. They usually work under supervision or mentoring (which may be indirect) focused on known contexts within established parameters. Within those parameters they have substantial personal responsibility for the planning and quality of their own work.
OHS Professionals are designers of strategy relating to the organisation and management of OHS within the wider context of business processes and the external regulatory, market and societal influences. They are influential and involved in problem solving and organisational review and change as advisers and consultants. Their advice is based on conceptual and technical knowledge of design and operations, mediated by experience, analysis of evidence and critical thought, enabling them to extend their understanding and control to novel, unknown and complex risks and their controls. They understand how to access, use, critically evaluate and develop the evidence base and they value professional collaboration. They are likely to work solo or give direction to others.
A Chartered OHS Professional in addition to the role, knowledge and skills of the OHS Profession, the Chartered Professional is a person with high level specialist skills in a specific area and/or high-level strategic skills. They are likely to be a designer of strategy and influential with senior management and/or policy makers. Their perspective embraces leading-edge thinking in OHS and takes account of the broader organisational and social context of their advice.