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OSHA's initiative to promote certification will strengthen the agency's voice in the national dialogue about workplace safety and health.
by Richard S. Terrill, CIH
How many certified safety and health professionals does it take to make an organization a recognized leader in workplace safety and health? When it comes to the number of OSHA employees with professional certifications, OSHA Administrator John L. Henshaw is a firm believer that more is definitely better.

Henshaw says professional certifications give the agency a more professional image and greater credibility in encouraging a national dialogue about the value of workplace safety and health. Thats why, when he and top agency management made professional certification a priority, OSHA began several initiatives to make it happen. OSHA's initiative to promote certification will strengthen the agency's voice in the national dialogue about workplace safety and health.

Professional Certifications

Many occupations, both in and out of government service, recognize education and experience through professional certifications. For example, a well-known certification for accountants is the Certified Public Accountant, or CPA, credential. Another is the Professional Engineer, or PE, certification. OSHA has always had employees with CPAs, PEs, and other certifications within its ranks and will continue to value all credentials.

But Henshaw says the agency must put more emphasis on polishing its professional image within its core occupational safety and health business. He said this is particularly important where stockholders interact with OSHA on a grassroots levelin its field offices and certain headquarters offices where safety and health professionals predominate.

In these forums, the designations CSP, for Certified Safety Professional, and CIH, for Certified Industrial Hygienist, carry considerable clout. Thats why Henshaw says it is essential that OSHA increase the number of CSPs and CIHs in its ranks.

Certified Safety Professional

The CSP credential is widely recognized as denoting competence in a broad range of subjects important to a safety professional. It is also among the most sought-after professional credentials for those in the business of workplace safety.

CSPs are awarded by the Board of Certified Safety Professionals, a nationally accredited organization established in 1969. The boards sole business is to set standards for peer certification programs in professional safety. Individuals qualify for a CSP by meeting education and experience requirements and passing required examinations. Complete details are available on the Board of Certified Safety Professionals website at www.bcsp.com.

In 2001, 447 new CSPs from industry, government, labor, and academia joined the ranks of the approximately 10,000 safety professionals worldwide who are currently active CSPs in good standing.

Van Howell, a compliance assistance specialist in OSHAs Boise Area Office who passed his CSP examination in August, is one of OSHAs newer CSPs. To begin the process, Howell and his supervisor put together a training plan that gave him the opportunity to prepare for the test while ensuring that the important work of the office would be accomplished. Howell followed a program of self study, then took a review course before completing the two-part examination required of all CSPs. "The CSP process has been both challenging and rewarding," Howell said. "It was hard work, but earning a CSP gives me credibility as a professional, and I think it makes OSHA a better organization."

Certified Industrial Hygienist

The internationally recognized CIH credential is granted by the American Board of Industrial Hygiene. There are approximately 6,300 active CIHs worldwide. Attaining the CIH designation requires meeting the boards requirements for education and professional experience and successfully completing the comprehensive industrial hygiene certification examination. The examination is given each summer at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference, and again each fall at several locations around the country. More information can be found on the boards website at www.abih.org.

Tony Towey, a manager at the OSHA Training Institute, has conducted the CIH examination on behalf of the American Board of Industrial Hygiene for several years. According to Towey, the exam provides a challenging test of the applicants knowledge of industrial hygiene, but the diverse field experience OSHA industrial hygienists and safety specialists get on the job may give them an advantage when taking the exam. Towey also believes that thoughtful study and preparation can greatly increase ones chances of passing.

CHART - Where are OSHA's CIHs and CSPs? - KEY: [Site/Reference: Percentage] - DATA: [National Office: 26%], [Field Offices: 74%], In Grades: [15 and above: 8%], [14: 22%], [13: 39%], [12: 30%], [Other: 1%] - [As Managers/Team Leaders: 35%] - As of August 2002


New Initiatives

Many of OSHAs regional offices and national office directorates are encouraging this type of study and preparation. Cindy Coe, the regional administrator in Atlanta, supports the creation of study groups among industrial hygienists and safety specialists in the Atlanta region preparing for certification exams. She also brought a review course sponsored by the American Society of Safety Engineers to Atlanta to help more than 30 employees prepare for their CSP exams. The Chicago Regional Office has made a review course taught through the Medical College of Ohio, Department of Public Health, available to employees who are working toward CIH certification. Other regions send OSHA employees to technical review sessions offered by various private training vendors to prepare them for the rigors of the CSP or CIH examinations.

In the longer term, OSHA is embarking on a major redesign of its compliance safety and health officer (CSHO) training, which may lessen the need to send employees to outside training vendors to prepare them for professional certification. The Office of Training and Education is working with the OSHA Training Institute and OSHA headquarters and field offices to design a new CSHO training program. It will consist of a structured sequence of courses offered over a three-year period, and related to the core competencies desired in OSHAs CSHOs. These core competencies will parallel those necessary for professional certification. Successful completion of this internal training program will go a long way toward preparing future OSHA employees to take and pass the relevant professional certification examinations.

There is also some good news on the financial front that may help move this initiative forward. Recent changes in the law now permit federal agencies to reimburse their employees for expenses related to professional certification, giving additional incentives for those pursuing CSP and CIH credentials. In years past, government funds could not be used to pay for application or examination fees earmarked for professional certification.

In addition, other financial incentives can help OSHA recruit certified professionals for safety and health job vacancies. OSHA is currently exploring the use of recruitment bonuses, superior qualification appointments, and other incentives to attract highly qualified job applicants who possess professional certifications.

OSHA currently has more than 180 employees who have earned the right to call themselves CSPs, CIHs, or both. Among them are Henshaw as well as a large cadre of senior staff who provide much of the agencys managerial and scientific leadership. During its 30-plus-year history, OSHA has also had many professionally certified employees go on to hold other positions of influence in the safety and health community, due in large part to the knowledge, experience, and dedication to safety and health that they developed at OSHA.

In addition, other financial incentives can help OSHA recruit certified professionals for safety and health job vacancies. OSHA is currently exploring the use of recruitment bonuses, superior qualification appointments, and other incentives to attract highly qualified job applicants who possess professional certifications.

By removing barriers to certification and by encouraging OSHA safety and health professionals with the potential and dedication to complete the process, Henshaw and the OSHA management team know that the number of CSPs and CIHs within OSHA will increase significantly in coming years.

They also know that OSHA will be a better organization for it one that is more professional, more influential, and better able to play a leadership role in improving workplace safety and health in the 21st century. JSHQ

Terrill is OSHAs regional administrator in Seattle, and has been a CIH since 1986.