August 26, 2002


The Honorable Rafael Irizarry Cruz
Chairman, Committee on Labor, Veterans Affairs, and Human Resources
Puerto Rico Senate
The Capitol, P.O. Box 9023431
San Juan, P.R. 00902-3431


ASSE CONCERN WITH HR 2405 - CERTIFICATION OF
SAFETY AND HEALTH PROFESSIONALS

Dear Chairman Cruz:

The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) represents the interests of over 30,000 safety, health and environmental (SH&E) professionals who are committed to seeing that every worker can go home each day healthy and safe from their jobs. As the enclosed fact sheet indicates, the Society is the largest and, founded in 1911, the professional safety organization that has been in existence the longest in the United States. We are proud that ASSE has a chapter in Puerto Rico that has been in existence for more than twenty years and represents 60 members.

On behalf of those members in Puerto Rico and the safety, health and environmental profession (SH&E) as a whole, ASSE expresses its alarm and opposition to the consideration of HR 2405. HR 2405 would establish certification for SH&E professionals against the consensus of the very people who would be required to obtain certification if the bill passes into law, including ASSE's members in Puerto Rico.

First, it is important to make clear that ASSE supports the professional recognition of SH&E professionals. However, though no doubt well meaning, the proposed bill reflects a gross misunderstanding of the SH&E profession and, if passed, would not help encourage safer or healthier workplaces in Puerto Rico but make it more difficult for SH&E professionals and employers to make those workplaces safer. The flaws of the bill are numerous.

Preamble
In the preamble to the bill, an entirely incorrect statement is used as the central argument for the bill's purpose. The statement reads

There are several Associations and Societies of Professionals that have been established to take care of Occupational Safety and Industrial Hygiene in the private sector. However, it has not been determined what education and experience these professionals should have to ensure optimal and effective protection for workers.

This statement is incorrect. In the United States and its territories, possess a fully functional and universally accepted system exists to assure that SH&E professionals have both the education and experience to perform their professional responsibilities.

Employers and the public have long relied on organizations such as the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP) and the American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH) for their certifications of both safety professionals and industrial hygienists who function at the highest levels of their professions. These organizations, through their stringent assessment of experience and well-established professional examinations, already accomplish what HR 2405 seeks. There also exists a variety of other widely accepted and equally stringent professional SH&E credentials accredited by either the Council on Engineering and Scientific Specialties Board (CESB) or the National Commission on Certifying Agencies (NCCA).

In addition, there are a number of institutions both nationally and internationally that offer degree programs in occupational safety, and health. In fact, ASSE has sponsored the creation of curriculum standards for accredited programs through the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

No evidence exists that this voluntary system is failing to work, either in Puerto Rico or any state in the nation. There is no confusion about SH&E among employers in Puerto Rico. There is no threat to public safety. No reason exists to warrant government involvement in a process that already accomplishes what HR 2405 seeks.

Department of Labor and Human Resources
ASSE is also alarmed that responsibility for professional credentialing of SH&E professionals would be in the Department of Labor and Human Resources. This is a conflict of interest that would compromise the very professional independence of those who provide SH&E services.

While a place exists for government to be involved in ensuring professional competency when there is a demonstrated need to protect public safety, such licensing bodies must be independent bodies that can make decisions free from influence. SH&E professionals, whether independent consultants or employed, are responsible for bringing together the interests of workers, the government, and employers to find workable solutions to safety and health threats. Under the scheme proposed in HR 2405, the credentialing of SH&E professionals would be controlled by the same government agencies that safety professionals must often negotiate with and sometimes even oppose when a bureaucratic decision may not be in the best interest of worker safety. The very real effect of this proposal is that SH&E professionals could be seen as working for the government. This could very well discourage employers from hiring SH&E professionals.

Definitions of Safety Professionals
ASSE and its members in Puerto Rico strongly object to the definitions of occupational safety and occupational safety professional used in HR 2045. While we can provide those definitions and would be happy to do so, the lack of proper definition reflects the fact that our members in Puerto Rico, or any other safety professionals organized in Puerto Rico, were not consulted and have been given no opportunity to comment on this bill or any part of it. It is difficult to see how any plan to certify a profession could possibly work without the support of those same professionals.

Historically in the United States and its territories, professionals have both supported and encouraged government involvement in recognizing professional qualifications when appropriate and a need has been demonstrated. Most professionals understand that there can be advantages to such involvement when accomplished in a cooperative effort. If there is an actual need for some form of government involvement in determining SH&E qualifications in Puerto Rico, ASSE has experience in a variety of avenues to achieve such involvement. We would be more than happy to assist our members and the legislature in exploring those possibilities through a cooperative dialogue that can produce a meaningful, appropriate result.

Minimal Requirements
To obtain certification, HR 2405 would require SH&E professionals to have either an associate or bachelor's degree, certain years of experience, and credit hours specifically in science, math and engineering. These requirements do not reflect the SH&E profession and, if enacted, would severely limit the availability of SH&E professionals in Puerto Rico. In every respect, these qualifications are misguided:

  • Advanced degrees -- Many highly qualified and well respected SH&E professionals do not have advanced degrees. While the numbers of degreed professionals is increasing, placing this restriction even with a grandfather clause would severely hamper Puerto Rican employers' ability to hire enough qualified professionals, especially in the current market where there is actually a shortage of SH&E professionals. When no other state or territory has such a restriction, employers in Puerto Rico will be placed at a severe disadvantage in hiring SH&E professionals.
  • Experience - It is difficult to understand the requirement for years of experience for certification since it appears no provisions are made for SH&E professionals with less experience. ASSE is unaware of any other government scheme to assure professional qualifications where new professionals are excluded from practicing, as this bill apparently would accomplish. Again, the provision would severely limit the availability of SH&E professionals in Puerto Rico.
  • Course requirements - The requirements that SH&E professionals take science, math and engineering courses does not assure well prepared SH&E professionals. These requirements could apply to a variety of technically orientated professions. If the concern of the bill were to assure educational preparedness, then courses or degrees in safety or industrial hygiene would be mandated. The haphazard nature of this provision reflects the fact that it was prepared without the cooperation of the professionals it is meant to regulate.

Unnecessary Taxpayer Burden
As outlined in HR 2045, the cost of administering the licensure or certification scheme and the development of legal and psychometrically acceptable licensure examinations that test the professional competencies of SH&E professionals would be great. Not enough SH&E professionals work in Puerto Rico to be able to bear that cost. If they cannot bear that cost, than Puerto Rico's taxpayers would have to do so. This kind of government involvement in a profession may be called for when public safety is at risk, but neither ASSE nor our members are aware of any risk to the public's safety in Puerto Rico. Without a demonstrated risk to safety, it is difficult to see how Puerto Rico's taxpayers can be asked to bear this burden.

Conclusion
Finally, ASSE is deeply troubled that the voices of our members and other SH&E professionals have not been heard by the Senate. As we understand it, when the issue was heard in the House, testimony was overwhelmingly opposed to the bill. Yet, despite the lack of public or professional support for licensing SH&E professionals, the bill remains alive. Before proceeding further, both our members' views and the views of those who are calling for this bill deserve an open and public hearing.

Jesus M. Martinez is the President of ASSE's Chapter in Puerto Rico. He can be reached at 787/819-7079. The Society stands ready to assist in any way we can President Martinez and our members in their opposition to HR 2405.

ASSE respectfully thanks you for your time and attention to our views and those of our members.

Sincerely,

Mark D. Hansen, PE, CSP
President, 2002-2003

 

Click here to go back