President insists change is overdue but critic accuses organization of being 'condescending and insulting'
By the end of this year the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering (CSSE) will likely be calling itself Health and Safety Professionals of Canada. The name change and the process by which it was chosen has caused controversy and division among members and safety professionals across Canada.
CSSE “limits people's perceptions of who we are and what we do, because we are not engineers," says Christl Aggus, the current president of the CSSE. While engineers are critical to the creation and management of safety systems, they are not necessarily safety professionals, and belong to their own distinct profession with title protection.
The CSSE was founded in 1949 and the name is meant to imply safety can be engineered into organizations by professionals. It aligns with its US counterpart, the American Society of Safety Engineering. But by the 1970’s the name began to cause some confusion among outsiders, and Aggus says the idea of changing the name has been discussed for more than 35 years.
"We need to move away from being seen as a group of engineers," states Aggus, who says recruitment efforts targeted towards corporate memberships have been hindered by the confusion. “The word engineering was the biggest stumbling block…. corporate memberships don't want that muddiness at all."
There is also demographic shift taking place within the organization, and younger members are pushing for change. "We need to change, and this was the perfect catalyst, the perfect time to be able to do that,” suggests Aggus.
The vote, survey, and outcry
Ahead of the annual general meeting, the CSSE board held a vote and accepted the idea of changing the name to Health and Safety Professionals of Canada. Aggus says 61 members attended the annual general meeting on April 19th, and 46 of them voted to either accept or reject the new name, which was approved by a vote of 25 to 21.
“There was a little bit of outcry…I just kind of thought that was a little close,” explains Aggus, who then decided to conduct an electronic survey so that all 4,000 members would have an opportunity to weigh in.
Aimee Arsenault, owner of Transmit Safety, wrote an open letter to the members of the Edmonton chapter. In it, she encouraged members to support the name change, arguing the existing name “no longer accurately represents who we are as a professional association. Our members come from various backgrounds and industries, and we need a name that reflects our commitment to being a modern and inclusive organization.”
Voices from the no side took issue with the way in which the name was decided. Dave Rebbitt, CEO of Rarebit Consulting, did not agree with the “dictatorial decision from an insular and unelected board.” He argues that because only the board voted on what the new name would be, that the vote at the AGM and the subsequent survey was an “illusion of choice.”
“Suggesting this was inclusive is condescending and insulting. What is difficult is understanding the thought process and the hubris that the board feels in making decisions for all the paying members. Tone deaf, insular, and offensive may just about cover it,” says Rebbitt in a LinkedIn post.
622 members responded to the survey and 408 of them approved of the new name.
Next steps for new name
There is still some red tape to cut through before the name is officially changed. It needs to be written into the society’s bylaws, which is undergoing a major overhaul as the organization moves from an operational governance structure towards a self-governance style. “Our bylaws need to be tweaked and rewritten,” states Aggus, and then two thirds of the membership need to ratify the bylaws before it becomes official.
That ratification vote won’t happen until the next annual general meeting, expected to take place towards the end of the calendar year. But Aggus suggests they may run the two names in parallel on the website as a “slower kind of change…it doesn’t just happen all at once.”
Aggus hopes removing engineering from the name will clear up confusion, as the organization works closely with the Board of Canadian Registered Safety Professionals on the effort to create title protection for the safety profession.
To those who oppose the new name, Aggus says she appreciates them voicing their opinions and engaging in the conversation. “I have nothing against the dissenters, from adversity comes growth.”