What does it mean to be a professional?
This is an interesting question, especially around the career of occupational health and safety. I'm certain the meaning of a being a professional is as varied as the number of people that consider themselves professionals. However, there are probably a core set of values and ideas that resonate with the majority of professionals.
Here is a short list of my definition of a health and safety professional. I believe a professional in the field of occupational health and safety is a person that....
- understands the fundamental concepts of occupational health and safety risk assessment,
- is able to apply these fundamental concepts in new situations and scenarios,
- continually seeks to improve their understanding of occupational risk including the science and technology in the work place, and
- follows an ethical code of conduct.
There are many more nuances that could be added to make the list more complete, but I believe this encompasses the essence of a professional in health and safety.
I believe the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP) and the American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH) have a similar definition of what it means to be a professional. The strongest tool they have of making this assessment is through their comprehensive exams for the Certified Saftey Professional (CSP) and the Certified Industrial Hygienists (CIH). They make an effort to go beyond just asking questions which merely ask for a regurgitation of facts and try to require the candidates to apply their knowledge. It is a difficult task to create good test questions requiring the application of knowledge in an analytical format, and it is also difficult for examinees to prepare for these types of questions. However, I believe these are an integral part of the certification process.
Occasionally, there are folks preparing to take the exam that seem to "only want to know how to pass the exam" and have no interest in further developing their knowledge base and analytical skills. I am left to wonder if these folks are really ready to become health and safety professionals in the broadest sense of the word.
I believe the mark of a true professional is one who continually thinks about their profession and looks for ways to deepen their understanding. I believe this to be true regardless of whether the person holds the title of CIH or CSP.