Health and Safety is still an emerging profession that has not historically been 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.

OHS roles in Australia have tended to develop over earlier decades along two often distinctive paths:

  1. The 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; and
  2. Health and safety as a management discipline, with more senior roles populated commonly by people with science/engineering backgrounds and education.  

In more recent years, these paths are less distinctive. Many highly capable vocationally trained people have successfully made their way through to senior roles, built on strong operational knowledge and work experience, and University-trained people have come from a greater diversity of backgrounds including the law, psychology, and of course new specialist OHS education at bachelor, Grad Dip and Masters levels.  This diversity has been partly driven by the increasing understanding within the field that the individual and social psychological aspects of health and safety are important elements of the knowledge requirements for the work.  Health and Safety roles – particularly more senior roles – now commonly require effective influencing, engagement and coaching at 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, and emotional intelligence is increasingly sought after to tackle the complexities of the role.

As these changes have been taking place, a global project managed by The International Safety and Health Professional Organisations (INSHPO) has been underway, to provide better definition across the spectrum of roles and responsibilities that health and safety people take up within the company. The new Global Capability Framework for the health and safety profession identifies six levels of work Practitioner 1-3, and Professional 1-3) requiring differing knowledge and skills, and defines those knowledge and skill requirements.   

Certification conducted by the Australian Institute of Health & Safety is articulated against this Global framework, certifying at the following levels:  

  • The (usually) vocationally educated Certified OHS Practitioner;
  • The (usually) university educated Certified OHS Professional and Chartered OHS Professional 

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.

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.