In the last 5–10 years, there has been much written and a significant amount of discussion on the topic of the training, education and skills needed by today's safety professional. This has taken the form of journal articles, Professional Development Conference presentations, practice specialty newsletter articles and much informal discussion. Recently the states of California and Massachusetts discontinued their professional engineering licensing programs for safety engineering. For this to be re-established, representatives from the Accreditation Board of Engineering Technology (ABET) have stated that one requirement for offering an examination to license safety engineers, is that at least one university must offer an accredited degree in safety engineering. There are no accredited undergraduate safety engineering degrees currently offered in the United States. This, in and of itself, may be a problem, but there may be an even more basic problem. What is a Safety Engineer (the title is loosely used)? How does that relate or compare to any other type of safety professional? Are they the same? Do they require the same education? While there has been much focus in the safety literature on management issues vs. technical issues, it has not been established what the difference between each type of position may be (safety engineer vs. safety manager). If we are not sure what a safety engineer is, we might have difficulty developing a degree for it.
Much has been written, about what competencies employers are looking for in safety professionals (Fredrick, Winn, Hungate 1999 and Blair 1999). There appears to be a building body of literature suggesting that traditional emphasis on technical topics should be re-evaluated. The positions appear to be equivocal however, but a number of interesting questions are raised.
Questions for consideration include: Is there such a discipline as safety engineering? Is a professional engineering license in safety engineering necessary? Is an ABET accredited engineering degree in safety engineering needed? Is there a difference in the expectations of a 22-year old college graduate entering the profession as opposed to older, more experienced people entering the profession later in life? If so, should their training be any different? Are there salary or career growth potential differences? There may not be universally accepted answers, but the presenters will establish discussion positions around the questions and then facilitate the roundtable discussion to address the issues and any other concerns. A comparison is made between existing safety curricula and the curricula of other engineering disciplines. The authors also explore the literature on the career paths of safety professionals, safety engineers and those of other types of engineers.
To start the roundtable discussion, the presenters establish discussion positions and in doing so, attempt to define the safety engineering discipline relative to other engineering disciplines according to published literature. This is in an effort to determine if a legitimate safety engineering discipline exists. Suggested definitions for a safety engineer and safety professional are presented for consideration.