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It has been 30 years since passage
of the OSH Act—and,
arguably, the birth of the formal
safety profession. While professional
organizations such as
ASSE existed before the Act
was passed, its promulgation
established a formal, nationally recognized
priority to prevent workplace
injuries and illnesses.

It has been 30 years since passage
of the OSH Act—and,
arguably, the birth of the formal
safety profession. While professional
organizations such as
ASSE existed before the Act
was passed, its promulgation
established a formal, nationally recognized
priority to prevent workplace
injuries and illnesses.
As this millennium opens, it is time for
safety professionals to look back and
review the profession’s paradigm—defined
as a “model, theory, perception or
frame of reference” (Covey 23).

THE QUESTION: ARE SAFETY PROFESSIONALS
MANAGERS OR ENGINEERS?

One key area in which safety practitioners
must reach agreement—or at least
develop a better understanding of—is
what the primary focus of safety professionals
should be. This issue strikes at the
heart of the safety discipline itself. Are
safety professionals primarily managers
or primarily engineers?

To address the engineering and management
roles in the profession, ASSE
created a management division/practice
specialty within its membership (Blair
20). In 1980, National Institute of Occupational
Safety and Health sponsored a
symposium, “A Dialogue Between Two
Communities” to further address the
dual functions of practitioners.
Today, the American Society of Safety
Engineers (emphasis added) is a leading
professional society for safety practitioners.
Accreditation Board for Engineering
and Technology (ABET) is the organization
that accredits academic safety
programs. In addition, the Board of
Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP) will
“waive the Safety Fundamentals Examination”
for select professional designations—
a list that includes a “professional
engineer (P.E.) [designation] from the
engineering registration board for any
U.S. state or territory” (BCSP 5).
Someone with no safety knowledge
could look at these facts and logically
conclude that safety practitioners are, in
fact, engineers. Is this the case, however?
In the author’s opinion, the profession
should assess the current research to
determine whether safety practitioners
are engineers, managers or both. To that
end, this article reviews what current
research indicates about this debate.

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