Technical Corner

Competent vs. Qualified Recreation Professionals

August 15, 2023

There continues to be significant reference to the term “competent” worker as defined in the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). Competency is extremely subjective as it allows the employer to determine a worker’s ability to perform various tasks based on internal expectations. Whether or not a person is competent will only truly be tested should an incident occur that results in an investigation. The recreation sector continues to struggle with being recognized as a profession and the nature of the workplace causes some of these challenges. Further, the interaction with the public in the work environment creates a unique employment condition that can vary from one facility to another. 

The OHSA defines a “competent person” by the following core principles:

  • (a) is qualified because of knowledge, training and experience to organize the work and its performance,
  • (b) is familiar with this Act and the regulations that apply to the work, and
  • (c) has knowledge of any potential or actual danger to health or safety in the workplace.

Considering that the OHSA was written over 40 years ago, the core objectives remain firmly rooted. However, it is doubtful that the expectation of (b) is familiar with this Act and the regulations that apply to the work was directing anything beyond actual OHS Acts and the related regulations of the Act (construction/industrial, etc.). ORFA members who have attended Legal Awareness II – Managing in a Recreation Environment are very aware of the 100 plus other Acts, Codes, Regulations, Standards, Best Practices and Guidelines that may apply to recreation operations. The overlap of legislative responsibility from the OHSA and the other possible related regulatory responsibilities is complicated and often left to interpretation during an investigation. At times, the best a supervisor can hope for is to be able to explain that they were doing the best they could based on their knowledge, available resources and senior administrative support.

Unlike other community public service operations (fire, water, transit, roads), recreation is diverse in its level of operations and no one straight consistent reporting pathway. Each department will have similarities, but each will also be unique in their infrastructure, equipment, design and level of service. Balancing this with the lack of any real regulatory requirements (with refrigeration and lifeguarding being the exception), creates an industry that operates at the will of (elected) community leaders. No other multi-million-dollar business operates under such a format. ORFA members often express their frustration in their efforts to try an educate these individuals and prioritize operational issues and concerns. Take heart, from my perspective, the environment has improved significantly and elected officials have a much better understanding for the role of education and training. 

Recreation was once a learn as you go industry. Existing senior staff were given the task of training new workers. This informally designated training individual usually had never been given any real training themselves but rather was considered knowledgeable based on years of experience to take on this role. Often the individual did not want the responsibility and did not fully comprehend the level of risk and liability they were imposing on themselves without the necessary liability coverage. They were typically not provided with any real plan of how this training should unfold. It was more of a new person following them around for a set period. There has been some improvement in this area, but many recreation operations still embrace this new worker training format. This brings us to the “qualified” worker definition. If a worker is selected to assist in training new workers, they must not only be “competent” they must be “qualified” to take on such a role. The old theory of years of, “experience equals knowledge and training,” is no longer an acceptable benchmark. Many facilities struggle with how to ensure they truly have qualified workers. Many do not know the real difference between a “qualified” and “unqualified” worker.

A qualified worker is someone with adequate knowledge, training and experience to perform specific assigned work. They possess the skills, knowledge and abilities to perform the essential functions of a job. They are trained and knowledgeable about the tasks they will be performing and must have the ability to identify and protect themselves and others from all risks and hazards associated with the work. They must be able to demonstrate and prove their proficiency in the work being undertaken. Failing to meet this level of expectation defines an “unqualified worker”.

Recreation operations remain an open frontier that the ORFA continues to provide reasonable and attainable qualifications for all levels of staffing. The ORFA professional designation and certification program has been in existence for over 25 years. These professional designations are pathways created by practitioners for practitioners. There are other “quick” certification pathways that are used by the membership. However, it is important to understand that ORFA is a professional organization recognized by governing authorities as the minimum benchmark when conducting their duties. Using other suppliers is acceptable if they meet ORFA recommended minimum standards for education and training. Receiving a “certificate” of successful completion has little value unless properly supported. A certificate can be defined as a written document that states a person has successfully completed a defined training event as established by an appropriate evaluation. The certificate is awarded by the organization that provided the training.

Certification refers to the process of affirming that professionals (or services or goods) have met a certain set of standards or quality. Certification is usually done by a group or authority like the ORFA in that discipline or done in comparison to a recognized set of criteria. To be certified, a review is conducted to make certain that the person meets the qualifications and standards set by the evaluating organization. Certification may involve completing a certain number of work hours, education, or examinations. ORFA certification [more] results in credentials that can be used with the person’s name to show that they have met these requirements. Certification blends nicely with a person’s ability to express that they are a “qualified” professional.

As the ORFA moves forward in its leadership role within the industry, members should expect a constant reference to “qualified” workers as we increase the level of expected “competency” of those who are responsible for Ontario’s recreation infrastructure as well as the health and safety of those who visit these operations.

    Comments and/or Questions may be directed to Terry Piche, CRFP, CIT and Director, Training, Research and Development, Ontario Recreation Facilities Association

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