Ask an Expert: Alberta Construction Safety Association Talks Safety Education

The business of safety is all about continual improvement. As a safety manager you’re always looking to improve safety culture and outcomes. Key to this is education.

Sometimes learning is about making changes based on observations and outcomes. Other times, it takes a more formal structure.

Ryan Davis is the manager of course development at Alberta Construction Safety Association (ACSA). The organization provides courses that cover health and safety administration, as well as leadership for supervisors and safety practitioners and a number of technical subjects.

We asked Ryan about the importance of continuing education, and how a safety manager can get the most out of hitting the books.

When should a safety manager look at upgrading their education or taking new courses?

Always. It’s common for safety people to begin with a generalist’s program (e.g. OHS certificate, NCSO, HSA, QSR, etc.), but then find a speciality within the health and safety practice. For example, someone may start as a generalist, but advancing your education can allow you to move into a discipline like occupational hygiene, and then into a subdiscipline, like audiometric testing or office ergonomics.

Why should managers extend their education beyond mandatory safety courses? What are some other topics they should study?

Safety is about continual improvement. This applies to individuals as well. I generally recommend that safety managers find a niche within safety that interests them, and then pursue a recognized program.

If the manager can’t decide, then they could choose a path that adds the most value to their company or clients. This may include management, business administration, human resources, engineering, environmental protection, risk management, sustainability, education, operations, occupational hygiene or auditing. An organization would benefit from a strong safety manager that was also strong in any of these areas.

Why is it important for safety managers to study leadership, not just safety principles and practices?

Safety managers should study leadership for the same reason any manager should study leadership: managing people can be challenging, and studying leadership best practices helps managers find a style that works for them and maximizes their team’s performance.

Why is it important for individuals to strive for a safety certification beyond what regulations require?

Safety is a competitive market. More than ever, employers are asking for certifications and designations as evidence of qualification. The CSSE hiring guide is fantastic resource for knowing what the various certifications and designations are, and also helps safety managers choose the right path for them.

Does continuing education have to be formal? What are some ways to stay informed outside of the classroom?

Not at all! Read books! I try and read at least one book a week. Few of them are specifically about health and safety, but all of them help me continually improve.

Safety managers can also stay current by networking with fellow professionals. The Canadian Society of Safety Engineering has local chapters that meet monthly. There are also free online resources, like webinars and white papers that can be helpful.

Further, there is continuing education in experience. Be sure to seek out new opportunities at work to learn new things and learn from failures.

All that said, the importance of formal education cannot be overstated. I’ve been enrolled in a formal program every year for the last 10 years.

How can safety managers encourage their team to take non-mandatory courses?

Lead by example! If the safety manager is continually learning and seeking out new information, it makes it a lot easier to encourage their teams to do the same. I’ve asked everyone on my team what their five-year plan is. I also insist they spend their learning allowance on whatever interests them in becoming a better safety professional and leader.

I often cite this quote from David Allen (author of Getting Things Done) in relation to safety:

“The better you get, the better you’d better get!”

Thanks for your insight Ryan! Learn more about ACSA and their course offerings at youracsa.ca.

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