Jack Hardy wasn’t planning a career in safety but he’s glad he ended up there.
As a civil engineer, his career path started at a concrete plant more than 25 years ago, when he noticed there were postings for safety officers and he figured it was a way to move up the corporate ladder.
He’s glad he did and he thinks it’s a great career path – almost recession proof because the skills are transferable to many sectors – and heartily recommends people looking to build a future follow his footsteps.
“I thought why not?” said Hardy, now manager of prevention for the Saskatchewan
Workers’ Compensation Board. “To tell the truth I think what tweaked me was that the posting paid more but then after I got into the role I realized it really was a vocation for me.”
Things have changed over the years and safety management is a fast growing priority in many progressive corporate cultures. He said it’s a great career path for young and older workers alike with nationally recognized accreditation programs and courses available through local colleges leading to the Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP) designation.
Back in those days training was fairly rudimentary, he said, but over time its has evolved into a specialty skill and evolved from being process driven to being something requiring a deep understanding of behavioral psychology and leadership.
“What I like about the safety field is that it’s very much collegial,” he said. “People don’t hold back, if they have something that works, they share it and it’s always been that way.”
He also likes the fact that safety management has evolved from being based on compliance – what do we have to do to follow the law – to being proactive and about creating a culture where safety is topmost of everyone’s mind.
“That goes to leadership,” he said noting the talk and the walk have to start at both the top and at the bottom of any organization to set the right tone.
The change in approach to safety management is being felt right through the system. While the University of Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety program has been around since1969, there’s been a real upswing of interest in the last few years as the concept of safety as a culture takes hold, says Nimmi Dua, program coordinator, OH&S Certificate Program, Faculty of Extension at the University of Alberta.
“We’re getting a lot more women interested in safety as a career,” she said. “And that’s good because, you know, Dr. Oz says women make better managers! Safety isn’t about walking around with a clipboard and policing people it’s about working with people to create a culture and women have great soft skills and people skills.”
“CEOs and CFOs have come to realize how safety affects the bottom line and how expensive an accident is and how important culture change is in being safety aware,” she said.
The U of A is one of several schools offering continuing education course and there are a couple of universities, Fredericton and Ryerson in Toronto which have full time degree programs.
Dua says the total number of courses on offer is over 100 grouped around six core courses and two electives. The courses are non-credit leading to a certificate but the 200 graduates each year are usually driving forward to take the CRSP certification and the program prepares them for it.
“We’re all about flexibility and accessibility so our courses are available online for those who can’t get here for face to face classes, two nights a week for six weeks, over three weekends, in 35 hours of seminar so people can choose which is right for them because many have full time jobs and can’t easily get time off,” she said.
About 60 per cent of students are sponsored by their companies with the rest taking the courses for themselves to try and raise their profile and job prospects.
The CRSP is the national certificate and it’s the accreditation more employers want along with some experience,” she said.
Ages of student range from 25 to 55, she said, noting safety management isn’t an add-on or compensation job “for old Joe who has three fingers and a thumb and became the safety manager by circumstance.”