What academic qualifications are needed to be a safety professional?

The Safety Institute of Australia has been investigating the development of a “core body of knowledge” for OHS in Australia for some years.  Recently the institute released a discussion paper on the proposed accreditation idea for OH&S professionals.  There is some similarity to moves in other countries such as the UK and to the situation in Canada.  Regular contributor Col Finnie comments below:

“……after a read of [the SIA document I] got very confused.   As far as I can see the accreditation thing seems to not paying any regard to the VET (vocational education) sector, and all the OH&S related quals.   Before I make any comment on the proposed accreditation paper I thought I should look for some clarification from people who are more aware of the nitty gritty.  To that end I posted a topic on the SIA Educators forum [members only].   But to reach a bigger audience I have provided a reproduction of the SIA member’s forum post here.

It’s part question, part observation of what seems to be an anomaly in the way the accreditation conversation seems to be heading.  I’m keen to see what you people reckon.  Reproduced post follows:

“G’day people.  I’ve kept out of the debate on the body of knowledge and accreditation stuff.  Partially that’s because I am in the long slow process of getting it all sorted from my end.  Nearing getting the Cert IV Training and Assessment and then propose to rip in to collect an Advanced Diploma OH&S once the Cert IV is out the way.  Once that’s all done I will be wanting to apply for CPMSIA membership (as an aside I consider, and I’m sure the punters would consider this grading as the most “solid” assurance I am competent in OH&S generalist stuff.)

But my core question, before I put time aside to respond to the latest discussion paper on “Proposal for program accreditation….”, is what the hell is going on?!

As far as I can see the discussion paper seems to be saying that the base level qualification for a generalist OH&S professional should be a graduate diploma.  It says that despite the fact that the whole accreditation deal says it is taking into account the AQF.   And clearly, the AQF now categorically nominates a diploma and advanced diploma as being appropriate for an OH&S advisor, with the later specifically referring to it being appropriate for a “senior consultant”.

My confusion is additionally fed by the fact that OH&S regulatory agencies did a huge amount of work advising skills councils about what should be in training packages if OH&S is being included in those packages.  That work is in the Safe Work Australia paper “Guidelines for integrating OHS into national industry training packages” published in 2008: this paper seems to be invisible in the discussion about the core body of knowledge stuff.  Have I missed something?  Is it the case that the VET qualifications are being treated, for all intents and purposes, as being “invisible” (despite employers having a reasonable amount of confidence in these quals)?

As a general observation, wouldn’t it be the case that if a graduate diploma was to be considered the “entry-level” qual for an OH&S professional, that a vast majority of OH&S regulatory agency inspectors would be considered underqualified to do their job?  Please accept that I haven’t posted this in a cynical frame of mind: I am genuinely confused by the approach being used in the accreditation discussions.”

Col Finnie
Director- fini:OHS

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories business, education, government, OHS, Professional standards, research, safety, UncategorizedTags , , ,

10 thoughts on “What academic qualifications are needed to be a safety professional?”

  1. The market for OHS graduates determines curriculum content. Educational institutions will always try to meet that market. As a result courses are calibrated to meet the requirements of employers that are devoid of vision or interest in effective OHS management. The bosses’ bias is for compliance over tangible improvement in safety. Form over substance.

    This has been the precursor to many OHS failures in Australian workplaces.

    Effective OHS graduates should be armed with the ability to have practical influence on safety in the workplace and the means to stand up to bosses when necessary. To be able to ask the ‘disagreeable questions’.

    Without these skills graduates will attract little, if any, respect from workers and in turn their employers.

    Educational institutions won’t deliver a better quality graduate until employers are prepared to recognise the fundamental importance of a good quality OHS professional and treat them accordingly.

    By the way, does anyone know of any MBA curriculum (anywhere) that offers an OHS component?

  2. At the end of the day practical experience is hard to beat
    I have 3 university qualifications, my adult & workplace learning one was excellent, my OHS one pretty good and my management of organisational change one was a bit of a wank.
    Where tertiary education becomes useful is when it can inform and improve practice.To do this you have to have the right content in the tertiary courses.
    I have worked with new graduates that were hopeless on the practical stuff, their self-importance about having a tertiary qualification did not help.
    To my mind practical experience with exposure to relevant tertiary learning is the way to go,I am one of the cynics who wonders how relevant some of the tertiary OHS learning is.
    I would think S.I.A. publications would be better served by publishing storeys about members practical experiences in safety instead of some of the academic stuff that seems to crop up.
    An effective safety person needs many skills over and above the safety technical ones, this seems to get lost in the debate.
    George Robotham

  3. As someone who has recently completed the Diploma of OHS, as a career divergence, I am of the strong belief that practical experience is a far heftier hammer than a piece of paper saying that you have a \”core body of knowledge\”. I am one of the lucky few in my class who had an employer willing to fund my further education while employing myself in an entry level safety role. I say lucky because I was able to practically apply and attempt to implement what I was learning.

    I also hold a Bachelor of Applied Science (Chemistry) which was completed in 2001, but to be completely honest, most of the knowledge gained during that degree has been lost, as I did not use 95% of it once I had entered industry. To this end I reiterate my point that practical experience is the key, because if you do not use that \”core body of knowledge\” on a regular basis, then you will most likely forget what you have learned, or at a minumum it may become redundant.

    A piece of paper will get you a job, but only hands on experience will further knowledge and careers.

  4. I am very interested to see how this will effect the VET Sector. As a Lecturer in OHS, I am not sure if a higher level of education is going to be of any real advantage.

  5. Col, it would seem there is an abundance of confusion not just related to appropriate qualifications for OH&S professionals. To be a little cynical, I am sure there a a good many PhD\’s floating around the the safety scene who have not really made much positive difference to the totality of the disaster.

    I have an MBA (international Trade & Business) and over 25 years experience in business consulting, with a very large slice of that relating to OH&S from both sides of the fence (Prevention & Compensation) so I might suggest that I have a \”Body of Knowledge\”.

    As I am nearing the sunset of my working life I am disinclined to undertake a graduate diploma when it will not advance my \”body of knowledge\” one whit.

    There will be many involved in OH&S who will have somewhat similar backgrounds and have contributed solidly over the years, how are they to be incorporated with their vast experience in the great hall of professionals?

  6. Phew George! I thought I was living in some sort of twilight zone. Big relief to see at least one other person is confused by the issue.

  7. Like Col I have become very confused and surprised that S.I.A. appears to be ignoring A.Q.F. guidelines, I say appears because I have not found the commmunications clear.
    Numbers I have been quoted say that S.I.A. represents well less than a quarter of the people working in OHS in Australia
    In another place I expressed considerable reservations about the processes that S.I.A. used on the core body of OHS body of knowledge project, so far no one has bothered to try to prove I was wrong.I have prepared some thoughts on the matter and will present them to the newly elected Federal President.
    When we are involved in debates about what level qualification is appropriate I think we tend to ignore the debate about how useful and practical the qualifications really are.
    George Robotham

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