Being a safety professional is not black and white like what you learned in university, college or what a safety enforcement officer will tell you.

It is in fact, different shades of gray.

This you will learn as you grow as a safety professional. At my first full-time position as a safety professional, I didn't fully understand the concept of shades of gray as I saw the legislation as black and white and the “law is the law.”

Beyond policing

A challenge you face at the start and throughout your career is changing the general view of people that you are the “safety police.” Several folks will see you as strictly enforcement instead of what it really is.

Even today, I sometimes have difficulty explaining to the general public what I do as a safety professional. They might just see your role as making sure employees wear their hard hats.

I believe the role of a safety professional is being a guide and coach for employees, supervision and management by providing them with the skills and training to perform their jobs safely. The way I explain this is that I am the one holding a flashlight in a dark room showing the way to get to the door safely. It is up to the employees to follow the path I have shown them.

Elements to success

So, what has made my life easier as a safety professional? They are the following:

  • Initiative
  • Having a notebook (logbook)
  • Keeping up with education
  • Code of ethics
  • Mentorship
  • Networking
  • Interpersonal skills (soft skills)

To be successful as a safety professional, you must have a certain amount of initiative. You shouldn't wait for someone to tell you what to do next unless directed by your supervisor/manager. I recommend when you are first hired, ask your supervisor/manager what he or she is expecting from you in this position. This will tell you how far you can go with your initiative and the range of responsibility of your position.

I strongly suggest that you get a notebook (logbook) or smart tablet to protect yourself in case something happens where the company, management or employees are trying to blame you for an incident, saying that you didn't tell them that something wasn't safe, or that you are required to testify in court. Write down / type down anything that you find odd, arguments that you have with employees, supervisors, or management; situations where recommendations were not accepted; when you know decisions made were against OHS legislation or the code of ethics. It is important that your notes are accurate.

Choose your battles

The safety field is constantly changing; staying ahead is important to keep up with education. You can take courses through universities, colleges, safety associations or attend health and safety conferences. Keep in mind the courses you take should benefit you at your place of employment or the industry you want to work in. It is also a great opportunity to meet fellow safety professionals and create valuable resources. If you intend to obtain a safety certification, you will be required to have a certain amount of education and if you want to maintain that designation as well.

Code of ethics is probably the most complex element. You will go through certain situations in your career where you will have to make choices as to which battle you should fight and the ones that you shouldn’t.

Networking can definitely become an asset for you as a safety professional. The more people you meet, the more resources and professional relationships you develop. You can network at health and safety conferences. Also, any types of courses you attend (safety and non-safety) are great places to meet folks and create networks. Becoming a member of an association (safety and non-safety) can help you to network as well.

Develop your skills

Interpersonal skills (soft skills) are crucial if you want to become a great safety professional. The work of a safety professional is 80 percent soft skills and 20 percent knowledge. It is guaranteed that you will be dealing with difficult individuals or groups who don't share the same goals as you. You will need to learn how to win over all kinds of different personalities. You should take advantage of any training that you can acquire on interpersonal skills; for example, how to deal with difficult people. At the end of the day, you can be right all you want but if you can't get people to follow your lead, you will not be successful.

Anything in life that is worth doing always comes with its share of challenges. You will have some good days and some rough days. I know for myself, it is rewarding when the people I work with go home the same way they came in, and when employees come to me and explain their efforts in going the extra mile so that their fellow employees remain safe from safety hazards/injuries.

 I love this profession and I hope that the information that I have shared with you will be useful as you start your journey as a safety professional.