Navigating safety certifications can be overwhelming – especially now that the safety industry is being inundated with new offerings. According to healthy and safety consultant Glyn Jones, this has caused a dilution effect: with so many options, it's no longer clear which option is best.

In this article, we’re going to break this down. We’ll go over what safety certifications are, why they’re beneficial, the various types, and some factors to consider when selecting one.

What Are Safety Certifications?

A safety certification is a qualification offered by a health and safety organization that usually consists of a few key parts:

Certifications can either be general in nature, such as a Certified Safety Professional, or they may pertain specifically to an industry like construction or oil and gas. Still other certifications are focused on ensuring trainees are competent in particular skills that may be necessary for them to safely carry out their jobs, like operating a lift truck or handling hazardous materials.

Safety certifications are important, but it’s important to remember that "certified" doesn’t necessarily mean qualified or competent. Having a certification confirms that an employee has gone through training and is capable of demonstrating the knowledge or skills required for that certification. Competence, on the other hand, comes from experience and qualification depends entirely on the requirements of a position or job.

(Learn more in Certification Versus Competency: What's the Difference?)

Benefits of Safety Certification

Many employers, safety managers, and workers wonder whether certifications are necessary. There are arguments on both sides and it truly depends on the company and its needs, but there are some compelling benefits to investing in safety certification.

Consistency in Training and Work Practices

Requiring employees to hold specific certifications allows you to be confident that they have all received consistent training and are capable of performing work properly and safely. You know the work will be consistent no matter who does it, since they’ve all proven their expertise through the certification examination.

More Effective Safety Programs

Certified safety managers have the knowledge and training required to develop more effective health and safety programs, and to pass that knowledge on to frontline workers. Businesses with effective safety programs tend to experience fewer incidents and gain benefits such as increased worker safety on the job, increased productivity and morale, reduced employee turnover, and financial savings.

Increased Customer Confidence

Customers can put more trust in a business that mandates certification. It demonstrate that your employees have been tested and deemed to have met specific nationally- or internationally-accepted criteria.

Enhanced Reputation

There’s no way around it: on paper, more certifications just looks better.

A business that boasts numerous meaningful certifications positions itself as a leader in its industry and may come to be known for its highly certified workforce. It can also add credibility to the business, as there are specific standards of practice required to maintain certifications.

Compliance

In some cases, certifications are necessary to remain in compliance with health and safety standards. Common examples of this include CPR, first aid, and powered industrial truck operation.

(For related reading, see CPR Certification: Why You Need It, How to Get It.)

Benefits for Workers

There are also excellent benefits for the workers. Certifications can open doors to more rewarding, higher paying positions and can be key to progressing in one’s career.

A salary survey conducted by the American Society of Safety Engineers found that the average Certified Safety Professional earns about $17,000 more per year than peers who do not have the certification.

Certifications can also provide access to members-only job boards, training resources, discussion boards, and networking opportunities.

Types of Certifications

There are a wide variety of safety certifications out there (OSHA has a great list), which means there’s something for every employer, safety manager, and frontline worker.

To help you sort through the options, here is an overview of three key types of certifications.

1. General Safety Professional Certifications

The more general safety certifications are often geared toward health and safety managers. The Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP) sets out and certifies competency criteria for health and safety practitioners. The Institute for Safety and Health Management (ISHM) also recognizes certain certificate programs that meet specific standards.

General safety professional certifications include:

2. Industry-Specific Certifications

These certifications focus on safety managers and frontline workers in specific industries. They tend to be "safety and health specialist" certifications and may be geared towards construction, disaster response, general industry, healthcare, oil and gas, maritime, or industrial work.

3. Skill-Specific Certifications

These certifications focus on teaching and certifying trainees in specific skill applications, such as first aid and CPR training, confined space or underwater work, forklift operator certification, and HAZWOPER certification.

(See HAZWOPER: A Primer to learn more.)

These types of certifications are often highly practical and hands-on, since workers need to be able to carry out the skills they’re being certified in.

Selecting the Right Certification

There's no one-size-fits-all certification program. Finding the right one means understanding the needs of the business or individual.

Here are some factors to consider when trying to decide which is the right certification for you:

  • What are the prerequisites?
  • Is it offered online, in person, or a combination of both?
  • Does it offer a practical component (hands-on learning)?
  • Is it accredited by a nationally- or internationally-recognized health and safety body?
  • Is the content of the certification program current?
  • How is knowledge/competency tested?
  • Who is the instructor and what are their qualifications?

Conclusion

Certifications aren’t the be-all and end-all for skill, knowledge, and competence, but they hold an important place in the world of occupational health and safety.

Certifications allow for greater consistency in training and work practices, improve the effectiveness of safety programs, and boost both customer satisfaction and business reputation.

Whether it’s a general safety professional certification or training for a specific skill required on the job, investing in certifications means investing in the safety of your employees and the future of your business.