Paving the Way to Professional Excellence


By Jim Smith, M.S., CSP, 2017-18 ASSE President

Last month, ASSE joined with more than 40 organizations from around the world to sign the Singapore Accord. Spearheaded by the International Network of Safety and Health Practitioner Organizations (INSHPO), of which ASSE is a founding member, the accord signals a commitment to improve OSH  professional and practitioner capabilities so that they may more effectively guide and lead the creation of safe, healthy workplaces around the world.

As a signatory to the accord, ASSE agreed to support the OHS Professional Capability Framework developed by INSHPO. This framework defines the roles, skills, knowledge and qualifications recommended for university-educated OSH professionals and vocationally trained practitioners. It is a consensus document based on a multiyear analysis of data from international professional associations and certification bodies.

The INSHPO framework is a foundation for the long-needed development of international standards of practice in our profession. It promotes a high standard of capability among OSH professionals and practitioners, and, in turn, informs employers and regulators about our key roles and capabilities. It also provides benchmarks for education and training entities that develop educational programs, continuing professional development, and certification and designation schemes. 

Signing the Singapore Accord is a next step in ASSE’s effort to define and frame the OSH profession. Over the past few years, ASSE has worked in various ways to identify the core competencies (or knowledge domains) that define our discipline. These competencies include evidence-based practices, communication, risk management and control, business, leadership, informatics and technology, and professionalism.

These core domains also create the basis for the key learning outcomes of OSH-related degree programs. This process is central to building academic degree programs consistent with our knowledge domains. A defining characteristic of any mature discipline or profession is a common core of educational standards that define what that profession is (and is not). Our profession is well along the trajectory of professionalization, but we must continue to advocate for a widespread and uniformly adopted set of educational standards.

Some may wonder why this framework focuses on capability rather than competency. Let’s look at the key distinction. Competence is the ability to consistently apply knowledge and skills to a standard of performance required in the workplace. Capability encompasses the theoretical knowledge that underpins practice in an occupation and a profession, as well as the industry-specific knowledge and skills that transcend particular workplaces and the tacit knowledge of the workplace. 

In practice, competency is about delivering the present based on the past, while capability is about imagining and being able to realize the future. Competency is a part of capability, but the capability dimension encompasses an individual’s confidence and adaptability, as well as his/her development and effective use of knowledge and skills in complex and changing circumstances.

The global framework is already having a positive impact. Two universities in Canada mapped their OSH-related courses to the framework and, as a result, changed and restructured core courses and developed new requirements. The Australian Industry Skills Committee is reviewing its work health and safety qualifications to align them with the framework and address identified deficiencies in vocational training content. We expect many similar developments as awareness of the framework grows. 

Please take some time to review the INSHPO capability framework. Ultimately, ASSE’s efforts to define and frame our profession will help employers see OSH professionals as key advisors, strategists and leaders in fully integrating the management of OSH-related risks into sustainable business practice; position us as effective communicators; and enable us to shape the future of our profession.

This is a significant accomplishment for ASSE and our profession. By defining our capabilities, we will ultimately help our employers prevent worker injuries, illnesses and fatalities.


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