40th Anniversary Feature: An Executive Director's Reflections of the Early Years

This is part of a series of articles that are being published throughout 2016 in commemoration of the BCRSP’s 40th Anniversary Celebration, 1976-2016

Contributor: Peter Fletcher, CRSP (NP), 79-212; BCRSP Executive Director 1979-2010

Forty years is quite a remarkable achievement for anything. To reach that milestone for a national, voluntary occupational health and safety (OHS) certification program is exceptional and a credit to a handful of visionary professionals who, in the early 70s, began discussing the feasibility of establishing such a certification program. Those professionals believed that a generalist OHS designation would significantly improve the health and safety of Canadian workplaces while at the same time advance the credibility of the dedicated men and women charged with administering those programs.

In 1979, I travelled from Mississauga to London, Ontario to meet with Avery Spencer (76-002) and Don Bauer (76-003), both original members of the Board of Governors of the Association of Canadian Registered Safety Professionals (ACRSP). The purpose of the meeting was to pick up the records of the ACRSP which consisted of 4-5 bankers boxes as Fletcher Wright Associates began its management of the certification body.

Avery Spencer was the driving force in the certification movement. He believed strongly that if OHS professionals did not take on this challenge that it might be done by others who may not have an OHS background. Avery also believed, as did all the initial Board members, that the certification program must be a separate entity from the membership and education body, the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering (CSSE).

A major talking point in the formative stages of certification was the name of the organization. While wanting to emulate some of the well-established protocols of the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP) program, the Governors wanted a name that would be distinct from its U.S. counterpart. Thus the choice of “Association” rather than “Board” and “Registered” rather than “Certified”. It was also important that “Canadian” be incorporated into the name. “Association” was eventually changed to “Board” in 2001 as “Association” implied a myriad of membership benefits, local Chapters and education program offerings. The reference to “members” was changed to “certificate holders” in 2009 (and certificants in 2013) to further differentiate the difference between a member association and a registering body. While “Registered” has legally remained a part of the name, “certified” and “certification” is part of the nomenclature often used by the Board. 

The Board reviewed several proposed designs for a logo and interestingly enough, the one selected remains in place today. It was formally registered with Industry Canada in 1986. As an interesting side note, the logo options were on display at the Board’s 25th Anniversary Celebration in Banff, Alberta and included a number of variations of the current logo.

What I find quite remarkable, and full credit goes to the original Governors, is that the certification process, with some necessary refinements, has remained consistent and stood the test of time since it was first developed by the original Board more than forty years ago.

Each Board Chair brought to the table a clear management style and vision for the advancement of the organization and the designation. A few achievements that stand out for me include Gerry Palmer, 77-089 (Chair, 1984-85) who encouraged the Board to focus on an organization that was administratively sound with a certification program that had a clearly defined and communicated assessment system. Roger Tickner, CRSP, 84-512 (Chair, 1995-96) stressed the critical importance of the Board being an independent body separate from any education component. Renzo Dalla Via, CRSP (NP), 81-354 (Chair 1996-1997) championed the development of the Examination Blueprint which has become a model for college/university OHS programs and spearheaded a practice-related, criterion-referenced examination. Heather Harvey, CRSP (NP), 92-776 (2000-2001), the Board’s first female Chair, established a strategic planning process that continues to be used today to keep the Board focussed and accountable for forward progress on critical issues.

Michael Salib, 77-137 (Chair 2002-2003) whose not-for-profit experience resulted in a very strong Board/staff relationship, believed the Board should become a policy making rather than a committee-based, working group. Progress to that end has been slow but steady resulting in a Board that is currently more policy focused that ever before. Michael was also very instrumental in the Board’s achieving international accreditation as he liaised with the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) on the development of the initial ISO 17024:2003 standard. Peter Lineen, CRSP, 95-1002 (2006-2007) guided the Board through the process of establishing its website (initially hosted by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety). The website, launched in 1998, is now a valuable tool for certificants as well as an important resource for potential certificants, employers and post-secondary institutions as well as the general public.

Although having never served as Board Chair, Donald Sayers, CRSP, 83-503 served as a Governor from 1988 to 1993. A consummate OHS professional, Don relentlessly challenged the Board to define the “OHS body of knowledge/scope of practice”. His passion was developing university distance-education OHS certificate programs which were primarily accessed by employed, full-time professionals looking to enhance their formal education in the field and in many cases, preparing themselves to pursue the CRSP designation.

Personal Observations of the Most Significant Milestones Positively Impacting Certification

  • 1980-Joyce  Ball, 80-226 (Labour Canada) became the first female certificant and in 1983, Joyce was appointed to the Governing Board.
  • 1982-examination became a mandatory requirement for all applicants regardless of qualifications.
  • 1989-the Mandatory Maintenance Program (renamed the Certification Maintenance Program in 2000), was introduced to encourage and monitor the continuing professional development of certificants.
  • 1991-a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP). Until the granting of ISO accreditations, this was, in my opinion, the most positively significant and influential event in the BCRSP’s history.  
  • 1992-the first Governor’s Table was published as a valuable communications tool for certificants; 
  • 1999-a scholarship program for students in full-time OHS college/university programs was launched. To date, $71,000 has been awarded to students across Canada.
  • 2000-a survey on Competencies Required of Certified Safety Professionals in Canada was completed resulting in the development of the first Examination Blueprint clearly defining the scope of practice for the OHS profession.
  • 2001-the contracting of an internationally recognized, external examination consultant, Assessment Strategies Inc. located in Ottawa, was a decision that stabilized and legitimized the examination (CRSPEX) as a valid assessment tool for certification.
  • 2001-certificants approved a name change from the Association of Canadian Registered Safety Professionals (ACRSP) to the Board of Canadian Registered Safety Professionals (BCRSP), removing the confusing concept of the Board as a membership-based organization.
  • 2005-ISO 17024 (Personnel Certification Body) accreditation was granted by the Canadian Standards Association. The BCRSP was the first Canadian certification body to be accredited to this new international standard. This was a significant achievement for the BCRSP and of critical importance to the designation’s international recognition.
  • 2006-the creation of a Public Member position (a requirement of ISO 17024) was the first significant change to the makeup of the Governing Board since 1976. The first Public Member was Howard Parsons, B.Comm., Calgary, Alberta.
  • 2008-ISO 9001 (Quality Management) accreditation was granted by the BSI Group. Certainly a much more employer-recognized standard than ISO 17024, this accreditation added further national and international credibility to the designation. 
  • 2009-the first National Education Symposium held in Edmonton, Alberta for Canadian colleges/universities with OHS programs was a major step in a partnership with post-secondary institutions and provided the BCRSP with the opportunity to promote the use of the Examination Blueprint in curriculum development. It also provided the institutions with the opportunity for input which was incorporated in subsequent Competencies Required of Certified Safety Professionals in Canada.

Moving Forward-A Personal Opinion

  • The Board’s continued strategic planning and adherence to ISO 17024 and ISO 9001 will only strengthen the national and international credibility of the designation.
  • The Board should encourage, in a timely and well publicized manner, raising the formal education bar to, as a minimum, an undergraduate degree in conjunction with the expansion and availability of undergraduate and graduate OHS programs.
  • Increasing the on-line functioning of the registration process is no doubt a given but deserves mention.
  • The initial review of applications as they are received, should, as they are with other certification bodies, become a staff function with Qualifications Review Committee (QRC) oversight. An on-demand testing option also needs to be implemented. These procedural changes which will come in due course, will ease the current burden of “crunch times” for both staff and volunteers with application deadlines, QRC reviews, Regional Screening Centre interviews and of course, the CRSPEX administration.

This article is too short to touch on all aspects of the certification’s development and to recognize all the dedicated, committed individuals who believed that certification was absolutely essential for the growth, recognition and stability of the OHS profession. It is safe to say today’s certification program has reached well beyond the imagination of the initial Board of Governors who, in their wildest dreams could not have comprehended a program that has certified over 6000 OHS practitioners since 1976 and has a current roster of 4000+.

Thank You

I could not let this opportunity pass without thanking and acknowledging the many individuals who positively influenced my personal and professional growth over thirty years serving as the Board’s Executive Director. First and foremost, to the many committed volunteers who served on the Governing Board and its standing committees, thank you for your support, encouragement and friendship. To Avery Spencer for his vision and unbridled passion to establish a Canadian health and safety designation. To Roger Brauer, Ph.D., CSP, PE former Executive Director of the Board of Certified Safety Professionals for enthusiastically sharing his knowledge, experiences and certification policies and procedures. To Yves Lafortune, BA. BEd, MEd (formerly with Assessment Strategies Inc.) for his advice and wisdom with the initial development of the Board’s certification examination (CRSPEX). And last but certainly not least, to Nikki Wright, BA (Hons), CAE who seamlessly and enthusiastically moved into the Executive Director’s position bringing with her exceptional skill sets, fresh points of view, experienced leadership and a commitment to the professional management of the BCRSP.

I wish you well as you celebrate the 40th anniversary of the BCRSP in one of the most idyllic settings in Canada.

Peter Fletcher, CRSP (NP) 79-212
Executive Director, 1979-2010

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