In Brief

  • Some professions mature from occupations into sovereign (established) professions. Several well-accepted characteristics define professions, including education standards and occupational closure.

  • This article describes how a model curriculum was created and, from that, how a new set of standards was developed for the OSH discipline.

  • The authors also explain that by leveraging the model curriculum and subsequent set of education standards, a road map might be constructed for professionalization of OSH that includes occupational closure.

All professions start as occupations. Over time, some develop into sovereign (i.e., mature, established) professions. The road map to professionalization is well understood, although there is no single route that all occupations take.

Several characteristics define professions: a common set of educational standards uniformly adopted by academic programs residing in institutions of higher education; professional certifications; and continuing professional education processes, which are themselves closely coupled to the education standards. In addition, established professions have peer-reviewed journals and conferences, a common understanding and use of terms regarding job descriptions, and a code of professional ethics as well as mechanisms to enforce it. Lastly and most critical, mature disciplines require occupational closure, which allows for professional definition and provides barriers to entry.

Typically, the best mechanism to widely disseminate education standards is program-level, recognized accreditation. However, with less than 7% of OSH programs accredited nationwide, this is a noticeable omission in the requirements for professionalization in OSH. Accreditation seems most successful if two factors exist simultaneously. First, the discipline must have a credible set of standards, credible in that they are based in research, policy and best practices, and viewed by consensus of practitioners and academics as being appropriate. Second, occupational closure must exist to enhance standards adoption by requiring all applicants to have graduated from an accredited academic program. Lacking occupational closure in the OSH discipline results in education standards that are not widely adopted.

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