Raising the bar for OHS education

Canadian safety professionals are also venturing into the international scene with initiatives designed to give the profession a say in issues pertaining to global sustainability and corporate responsibility.

While safety professionals continue to sore to new heights, many industry observers are asking: Are Canadian educational institutions effectively providing the competencies future safety practitioners need to succeed in the new world of OHS practice?

At this year’s CSSE conference, the University of New Brunswick (UNB) hosted a forum for a select group of thought leaders to get their input on a number of questions around competencies and the direction OHS education should take to support the needs of the community. UNB is calling it the “roadmap for OHS education.”

Canadian Occupational Safety was invited to the meeting, headed by Ken Reimer, director of the UNB Online department. Those in attendance included Eldeen Pozniak, an international safety practitioner and head of Pozniak Safety; Glyn Jones, a professor of OHS at UNB, University of Alberta and University of Calgary; Corinne Paul, program manager for Enform, the health and safety association for Canada’s upstream oil and gas industry; Spenser MacPherson, a health and safety consultant at SEM Partnerships; Shelly Ptolemy, president of Ptolemy and Associates, a management consulting firm; and Carol Reimer, an occupational health educator.

One of the most interesting topics of discussion focused on the “soft skills” safety professionals need to thrive in the workplace. Safety practitioners are often skilled in the technical aspect of their profession (risk management, hazard assessment) but are sometimes lacking the soft skills needed to fully succeed in their mission of creating safe and healthy workplaces. Effective communication, leadership, learning the language of business — these are part of the “softer” side of competency that come in handy for safety advocates.

Safety managers are often referred to as change agents. Over the last decade, they have been successful in breaking down the traditional way of work — when injuries are considered “part of the job” — and instituting a new way of operating, one focused on prevention and cultivating an organizational culture of safety.

Many successful safety managers know it takes more than just the knowledge of hazards and how to mitigate them to truly succeed. They have learned to hone their soft skills to help them get their message across.

Taking advantage of the CSSE conference to consult with industry practitioners was a smart move by the UNB. The insights provided by these professionals — some of whom have extensive international experience — are valuable and reflect the realities of the profession,  enabling UNB to develop OHS programs that are relevant and responsive to the needs of the community.

With strong education as a foundation, the safety professional’s star will continue to shine brighter in the business world and on the global stage.