Only two occupational health and safety (OHS) credentials existed before OSHA. The Certified Industrial Hygienist CIH® was established by the American Board of Industrial Hygiene® ABIH® in 1960. The Certified Safety Professional® CSP® was established by the Board of Certified Safety Professionals BCSP® in 1969.
The CIH® and CSP® are the high-water mark for quality among the hundreds of OHS certifications/credentials available today. The CIH® requires a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) bachelor’s degree as part of the qualifications to sit for CIH exam. The CIH is the only OHS credential that requires a STEM degree. Minimum requirements to sit for the CSP® is a bachelor’s degree in any field.
The minimum passing score for the CSP exam is about 55% compared with about 70% for the CIH. About 87% of people that take the CSP prep-course from Bowen EHS pass the CSP exam on their first try. Over the Fall/Spring exam cycles from 2019-2003 the average pass rate for the CIH was about 41%, with a range from 36.2%-57.9%. By STEM comparison, the average PE exam pass rate for all engineering specialties during the latest cycle is about 64%. The CIH is a highly demanding credential; which may explain why less than 300 people annually attempt to achieve the title.
If the CIH and CSP are high-water marks for quality, what are the lowest quality OHS credentials? The constant flux of the unregulated OHS credential market along with hazy transparency and other issues e.g., no standard benchmark makes this an impossible question to answer.
Snapshot OHS credential market
ABIH® is now housed within the Board for Global EHS CredentialingTM BGCTM that markets Qualified Environmental Professional® QEP®, and EPI®, CPPSTM, CPEA®, and CPSA® credentials. The National Safety Council NCS®, not to be confused with the American Association of Safety Councils AASC®, has partnered with the BCSP® to prepare people to take exams for the CHST, SMS®, and Occupational Hygiene and Safety Technician OHST® (formerly Occupational Health and Safety Technologist) credential. BCSP® also markets the ASP®, STS®, STSC®, CIT, GSP®, and TSP credentials.
The AASC® generally supports the Certified Occupational Safety Specialist COSS® and COSMTM credentials. The National Association of Safety Professionals NASP®, not to be confused the American Society of Safety Professionals ASSP® (formerly known as ASSE®) should not be confused with the National Association of Occupational Health Professionals (NAOHP®). NASP® markets certified (“certificates” is probably the precise term) Licensed Safety Professional LSP, SDC, and CSM credentials, among others.
The Institute of Hazardous Materials Managers IHMM, not to be confused with the Alliance of Hazardous Materials Professionals AHMP® (formerly known as ACHMM), markets the Certified Safety and Health Manager CSHM, CSMP, and ASHM credentials. If hazardous or dangerous goods is your OHS specialty, then IHMM offers the CHMM, CHMP, CDGP, CDGT, and Student CHMM credentials. The World Safety Organization WSO, with target U.S., markets Certified Safety Executive WSO-CSE, WSO-CSM, WSO-CSS, WSO-CSSD, WSO-CST, and about a dozen other OHS related credentials.
If ergonomics is your OHS specialty, the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics markets the CPE®, CHFP®, and CUXP® credentials. If hearing conservation is your OHS specialty, the Council for Accreditation in Occupational Hearing Conservation markets the Certified Occupational Hearing Conservationist COHC® credential.
OHS and related certifications in the U.S. are limited only by one’s imagination and market savvy. There are hundreds of OHS certifications and related credentials. If the above is confusing to you, imagine an employer’s frustration trying to figure all this out.
From 1980-1991 the U.S. government mustered its regulatory and investigative resources e.g., FBI, GAO, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Department of Education, among others, to harness and eliminate the billion-dollar diploma mill market. One finding of the Dipscam operation was that people working in the OHS occupations were a target market for sub-standard or fake university degrees. Although I will not go into detail, leadership of at least one OHS credential marketer above operated a notorious diploma mill, which has since been shut down by state authorities. Legit OHS credential holders sometimes make poor ethical judgements. I personally knew three CSP®s and was aware of more that held “doctorate” degrees from diploma mills.
Slick marketing, including fake accreditation organizations, helped diploma mills to thrive. A main reason diploma mills thrived, however, was the complicity of the person that sought the academic credential for vanity, employment advancement or other reasons. Most diploma mills did not just sell people an academic degree, they made people work just hard enough through online coursework, external projects and “life experiences” to convince the buyer that they earned the credential.
OHS credentials are part of an unregulated, free market. Anyone may market an OHS credential. I am not suggesting there are OHS credential scams. Caveat emptor “let the buyer beware” is my advice. Evidence strongly suggests, however, that quality-wise every OHS credential falls below the CIH® and CSP®. Let the arguments begin.
Impact of OHS credentials
When a title is scarcely earned, some people experience “Impostor Syndrome” in which the individual doubts their abilities and have a fear of being exposed as a fraud. This may result in some people discouraging OHS management system audits such as ISO 45001, that may reveal an individual’s weaknesses.
The complexity, abundance, and competition among organizations that market OHS credentials demonstrates a fragmented, non-unified OHS workforce. The desire for many OHS practitioners to improve and distinguish themselves through credentials is promising but perhaps not channeled for the betterment for the entire OHS practice.
PE credentials show harmony and strength, even with their diverse public health and safety objectives. The PE title is sought annually by thousands of people because the credential is required for their occupation. No credentials, academic or otherwise, are required for general OHS work. Be advised that some state regulations may require credentials for asbestos, lead, hazardous waste and similar OHS work that may impact public health and safety.
Future OHS challenges are anticipated to be more complex and diverse. A few hours of STEM study that all OHS credentials, except CIH, encourage, but not require, cannot substitute for academic STEM preparation. It seems right that at some future date, BCSP® should require a STEM degree to sit for the CSP® exam. Would any other OHS credential move in this direction for market advantage?
Top OHS job
The head of OSHA is arguably the top OHS job in the U.S. President Biden selected Jim Frederick to be OSHA’s head aka Deputy Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Labor. Mr. Frederick’s online records show he holds a BS in environmental health (industrial hygiene) from Purdue University and an MS in environmental health and safety management from Rochester Institute of Technology. I can find no evidence, however, that he has ever added supplemental OHS credentials, such as those we have discussed, to distinguish himself. Importance, or lack thereof, of OHS credentials should be considered with this point in mind.