Occupational Health and Safety
Preparing graduates for in-demand career
By: Nicole Laidler
The COVID-19 pandemic has put workplace safety in the spotlight like never before. And while you may not have previously considered a career in Occupational Health & Safety (OHS), the profession is in high demand and offers a wide range of opportunities.
Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety prepares graduates for in-demand career.
Just ask Bruce MacKinnon, Regional Health and Safety Manager, AGF Access Group Inc., and an instructor in the Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety Management program at Western Continuing Studies.
Trained in chemical engineering, MacKinnon fell into the OHS profession more than 30 years ago when a laboratory accident left a colleague with life-changing injuries. “Fortunately, I wasn’t in the lab at the time. But that incident started me on a lifelong path of learning how to make sure we do things safely,” he says.
Over the past three decades, MacKinnon has worked as a safety specialist for the industrial, construction, laboratory and healthcare industries. As a certified Construction Health and Safety Officer through WSIB, he’s also worked on construction sites here in Canada and in Afghanistan (Op Athena). That’s in addition to his experience delivering workplace training programs and sharing his professional knowledge with students in the Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety Management program at Western Continuing Studies.
The ten-course diploma provides graduates with a solid understanding of legislation, workplace hazards, occupational illnesses, and the role occupational health and safety plays within organizational structures. It is recognized as an approved academic program for the Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP®) designation.
The program can be completed full-time in 12 months, or part-time over 24 months. It includes a 560-hour practicum where students are able to apply their knowledge in a practical setting, gain valuable work experience, and build their professional network.
The only prerequisite is a university degree.
MacKinnon says students enter the program with a wide variety of backgrounds. “It doesn’t really matter what your degree is in,” he says. “The important thing is to apply your practical skills and knowledge to health and safety. You need to have a passion for people and a willingness to have those critical conversations.”
Katie Fielding entered the program with a BSC, Biology. “I was looking for something that would lead to a worthwhile career,” she says.
Fielding chose the program at Western Continuing Studies because the curriculum is taught by industry professionals.
“I also liked the idea of getting firsthand knowledge of the industry through the practicum.” The staff at WCS work hard to help each student find a placement that is a good fit, she says. “Gaining the hands-on-experience you need to start your career is absolutely invaluable.”
After graduating last October, Fielding continued with her practicum placement at AGF Access Group before joining Flynn Group of Companies as a Health and Safety Specialist in February. She enjoys the variety of her chosen career – which has already included visiting job sites, creating and delivering training programs, and writing policies and reports.
MacKinnon notes that COVID-19 has put workplace health and safety in the spotlight. “It’s put safety practitioners on the front line, talking to workers about how critical proper hand hygiene is,” he says.
The pandemic also underscores the importance of continual learning, even for seasoned OHS professionals. MacKinnon takes up to eight courses each year in order to upgrade and learn new skills. “This is not a job where you train once and you’re done,” he says. “It’s critical that health and safety professionals are always learning new things.”