OHS professionals have come a long way in their professional growth and standing in recent years, and this trend was accelerated by COVID as organisations turned to OHS functions for critical guidance and advice, according to Sarah Cuscadden, deputy chair of the AIHS College of Fellows.
Organisations have seen the impact OHS professionals can make, not only with safety but the overall operations of a business, said Cuscadden.
“Fast forward 20 years to 2022 and safety professionals are so diverse; a professional can now specialise in operational safety, health and wellbeing, safety technologies, safety strategies and so on,” she said.
“Because of the depth of a safety professional’s role, boards and executives are now turning to heads of safety for proactive strategic advice, with safety professionals now finding themselves with a seat at the boardroom table, instead of having to fight to be heard.”
Cuscadden observed safety professionals (along with many others) stepped up during COVID: “they were at the epicentre of understanding the rules, developing and implementing policies on run, all while keeping people safe and healthy and organisations running,” she said.
“COVID demonstrated the breadth of safety professionals’ skills and the ability to partner strongly with other cross-functional internal teams.”
Safety professionals have organically grown the health and human side of safety over the past five or so years, according to Cuscadden, who said they have been instrumental in including health and wellbeing in organisational strategies and plans, and have worked with training organisations to develop impactful and meaningful health and wellbeing programs.
However, she also noted the work of safety professionals is not yet done and there are “still plenty of gaps and opportunities to learn from past experiences”.
In some industries, she said safety has been “late to the starting line” on leveraging technology to improve operational safety and wellbeing.
“I think the contributor to this is associated with a skill gap for safety professionals, who are not really trained in technology development and implementation,” she said.
“Over the past seven or so years we have seen a plethora of safety apps developed to transition paper-based processes into digital ones, and we have seen the use of virtual reality for high-risk training and simulations.
“I see the professionals next frontier is to level technology to reduce operational safety risk – to be successful in doing this safety professionals need to be equipped with some level of technology knowledge, and build really strong relationships with internal technology officers and external technology providers.”
Over the next 10 years, Cuscadden said she envisions more people entering the industry from the grassroots level while board seats held by safety professionals will also increase.
“Because of this, the way businesses think about safety and how they work will become inherently safer and healthier,” she said.
“Successes for the safety industry will come from innovative technologies that not only significantly reduce operational risks; they will enhance production and profitability.
Cuscadden also said the recent updates to the AIHS certification program benefit both individuals and organisations.
As it is aligned to the OHS Professional Capability Framework: A Global Framework for Practice, she said the AIHS program sets an international benchmark and provides a framework that grows individuals and helps them progress throughout their career, “no matter how or when they entered the safety profession”, she said.
“I see the AIHS certification program as a career guidance journey tool that individuals can use to guide their personal growth.”
The cover story for the next issue of OHS Professional magazine will feature the evolution of the OHS profession and its journey towards influence, status and success. Cuscadden together with other leaders in the health and safety profession will share their thoughts on this journey and what OHS can do to further their professional standing in the workplace and through the AIHS certification program.