Australia’s safety education arrangements need clarity 12


On 18 June 2012, the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) distributed two media announcements on behalf of the Australian OH&S Education Accreditation Board (AOHSEAB). One announcement states that RMIT University

“…was first cab off the rank as part of a pilot program for the accreditation of OHS professional education programs”.

That announcement continues to say that

“As universities progress through the accreditation process employers and recruiters will have confidence that OHS professional education programs adequately prepare graduates to enter the workplace as an entry-level OHS professional and potential students will have a point of reference when selecting a program of study.”

This sounds very positive but who is this accreditation board? The Board’s website lists the Board’s Members and states its purpose as

“accredit[ing] OHS professional education programs that meet the accreditation criteria and holders of accredited qualifications are then deemed to meet the knowledge requirement for certification as generalist OHS professionals.”

So the Board provides some additional credibility to OHS professional education programs through accreditation. Can OHS courses exist without this accreditation? Certainly. The media release says that universities are “lining up” but only Latrobe University is in the accreditation process at the moment.

The state of tertiary OHS education in Australia is confusing. Some universities are promoting OHS courses while academics at other universities (and the SIA) are bemoaning the closure of OHS courses.* The March 2010 edition of SIA’s member magazine, OHS Professional, included an article talking about the “death knell” of the School of Risk and Safety Science. It mentioned other failed OHS tertiary courses, such as Deakin University. It was not so long ago at an SIA awards function that OHS academics, who are SIA members, were near to tears over the “closure” of some OHS courses at RMIT University !?

The Australian OH&S Education Accreditation Board needs to provide a clearer rationale for existing, if it is to meet its aim of helping

“…potential students in selecting a university and an OHS program; it provides information for employers who may be requiring current OHS advisors to take on further qualifications; and it may inform recruiters and employers in their selection processes.”

Why have an OHS Accreditation Board at all? To what deficiencies in the education system is it responding? How does the Board’s accreditation add value to the existing courses? Cannot the market dictate which courses should and should not be provided?  The Australian Government has an active interest and role in tertiary education, to what extent should the government be involved with this Accreditation Board?

The media release states that the Board is

“Auspiced by Safety Institute of Australia Ltd”.

Auspiced? Other than auspice not being a verb, it is fair to extrapolate a meaning of patronage or protection by the SIA but in the latest Annual Report available (2009-10) there is no mention of this Board but there is mention of an OHS Education Chapter whose Vice President was Professor Mike Capra and whose Secretary, Pam Pryor, is also the Registrar of the Accreditation Board. The Chapter seems to have devolved over the years, according to the SIA website , into a Special Interest Group.

“The Chapter is a national Special Interest Group of the Safety Institute of Australia for those who are involved in OHS professional education, research or vocational or workplace training.

As of November 2009 the Chapter has two sub groups; the Academy of University OHS Education and Research and the Vocational and Workplace Trainers Group.”

It is fair to say that the Accreditation Board and its relationship with the SIA appears to be murky. The Board shares its phone number and postal address with the SIA. The Board’s ACN number is the same as the Safety Institute and the Board is “auspiced” by the SIA.  The AOHSEAB media releases are available on the SIA media website but not on the AOHSEAB media release site.

If the AOHSEAB is independent of the SIA, it needs to be seen as independent. If the AOHSEAB is “auspiced”, funded, owned, protected or administered by the SIA, be upfront about it and don’t create new terminologies that only muddy the relationship.

It may be that the safety profession in Australia is so small that the inter linkages of various OHS bodies, accreditations, academics and associations is unavoidable. Good governance would dictate that there be some clarity to responsibilities, duties and relationships of these organisations and individuals in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest, particularly when involving commercial organisations, like universities, with not-for-profit organisations like the SIA.

SafetyAtWorkBlog has approached the SIA for clarification of the media release and to respond to some of the questions raised in this article.

Kevin Jones

* It should be noted that a major advocate of the University of Queensland’s Bachelor degree in OHS, Professor Mike Capra, is on the Accreditation Board and that the University of New South Wales’ School of Safety Science did close but that OHS courses continue to be provided at that university.

12 comments

  1. I think that the idea of an Accreditation system is logical, it presents the opportunity for graduates to be able to meet a specific criteria or standard, but given that a large number of people (or I would call OHS professionals) are NOT graduates of universities and instead have done the hard yards of being on the shop floor and then through motiviation or interest have undertaken a VET course to gain a qualification. It leaves me thinking that any such accreditation system needs to include this VET practitioner level – or perhaps a different accreditation for the VET sector.?

  2. Every where I turn there are safety educators of all kinds in fact I am combining with MOSH to deliver Suicide Prevention training (some seats still available) in the first week of July.
    Everyone is very aware of the need for workplace safety.
    There are people who I admire and respect greatly who have made careers out of workplace safety.

    Yet I am left to question the number of workplace injuries -mental, emotional, physical- the number of workplace deaths -fatal or by disease- the number of contemplated attempted completed suicides.

    Is there a linkage to what is in place and what is missing but being ignored.
    I would answer yes there is a link.
    But as yet -to the best of my knowing- no one has made any serious attempt to put in place what I believe is the missing step.

    I did put a concept to a highly placed person within the safety industry.
    He had 2 concerns, the time it would take was the least of the concerns.
    The major concern was the cost involved.

    Oddly enough the last conversation I had with this person, he said he would be happy to continue to look at what I was saying and work a way forward because he could see the value of what was in front of him and he could see the depth of information that had not been explored.
    I waited a period of time, I sent an e-mail.
    I never received a response.
    That was about a year back.
    I shudder to think what could have been put in place and how many lives could have been saved and how many injuries could have been prevented.

    I am not a safety expert of any kind.
    My role is to mop up the mess left behind when safety in the workplace is ignored.

  3. Grant that is a most cynical thing to say, I will support your right to say it, but I do not agree with you.
    SIA is going through a tranistion that is true, I have great faith that Keith Brown (current CEO) to bring in changes that are over due.

  4. Rosemary, I was lucky enough to catch up with Keith Brown for coffee recently. He seems to have the networks and the nous to affect change. I am watching for the end of the transition. I hope it’s not far away.

  5. As moderator I approve all comments to the SafetyAtWorkBlog and thought about Grant’s comment but came to the same decision as Rosemary to allow the comment to stand.

  6. I have known Keith Brown for many years, I know Keith to be a man of great vision & to be driven to improve things for all he works with.
    As with you Kevin I am looking forward to the outcomes of all that is before Keith and SIA.

    Thank you for allowing Grant’s comment to stand, it is important to every discussion for all voices to be heard.

  7. im a little confused by this article.
    1. how is good education benchmarked?
    2. the Board, although they probably have good intentions, it feels slightly ironic that say LR from RMIT is part of the board, OHS higher ed level at that university is no longer offered (so what’s to pilot or accredit?) – so what can be piloted? here’s hoping they’re not going to ruin the Cert IV and Diploma level courses of that Uni.
    3. industry OHS roles ask for a degree level qual and experience within the work type (some companies). so instead of accreditation, why not provide guidance to workers on how to upskill, what courses are available, or how to develop to be capable in health and safety roles. surely, industry insight and records/evaluations/reports could provide a much more realistic development strategy to ensure those in health and safety roles are ‘capable and competent’ at what they do.

  8. Michael, your first question is excellent. Some would argue that a good education should result in a good job or, at least, better prospects. However, jobs often come not only from the quality of education but the networks developed through that education and from one’s social circumstances.

    I am also confused by RMIT’s actions. The media releases just don’t have enough information and I have been unable to get any information from the Accreditation Board or the SIA. Even people in the SIA are trying to get answers to the questions I posed.

    The safety profession in Australia has often been accused of elitism, usually an accusation denied but often then confirmed by the next action , policy or decision. The Cert IV OHS course has often been disparaged butis a legitimate entry to the OHS profession and should be supported and nurtured.

    What you seem to be uggesting is that there needs to be a pathway to skills and profession. I agree and I don’t believe that such progress is dependant on log books, points collection and gradings, unless those criteria justly include work experience.

    I continue to hope to get answers from the SIA but I am still waiting over a month over questions related to th OHS Body of Knowledge.

  9. I have generally been a supporter of SIA, and while my statement was cynical, thanks to all for letting it stand. It’s a view I’ve heard expressed in some circles – the Board invention seemed to align with that view, and causes me some concern. I am heartened by the comments here, and trust the faith is well placed.

  10. Pingback: Unanswered questions on Safety Institute activities « SafetyAtWorkBlog

  11. Pingback: More barriers appear to safety education reform « SafetyAtWorkBlog

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