Avoiding the OHS training dead-end

[Ed: There has been a terrific response to Col Finie’s post on training and OHS qualifications both on and off the SafetyAtWorkBlog.  Col provides a further article below]
Brett’s point is critical for mine.

[“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 minimum it may become redundant.”]

It goes to the heart of what has to drive the core body of knowledge and accreditation.

Every qualification is no more (or less) than a catalyst for future learning.  I heard someone mention there is a rule of thumb that any qualification, at any level, becomes redundant within 5 years after completing it if it isn’t supplemented with on-going learning.

Clearly the question of a minimum qualification to start the passage of on-going learning has to be informed by the complex thing of describing a core body of knowledge.  A complex project can only be dealt with properly by dividing into discrete bunches of key issues.  And ideally, that division should be done with as few preconceived ideas as possible.

For mine I think there have been some preconceived ideas brought to the project table that look like they are sending the project into a “solutions cul-de-sac”.  I’ve used this idea of cul-de-sacs back in me legislation drafting days.  You start with a preferred outcome, usually with a bunch of ideas and you move down a path of steps and suddenly find you have reached a place where the preferred outcome is isolated; it has gone down a path that disconnects it with other related elements and there doesn’t seem to be anyway to make the connections: a cul-de-sac.

More often than not the thing to do when at a cul-de-sac is to look back down the route.  And invariably, you find the cul-de-sac was created by a flawed preferred outcome, or at very least flaws in the assumptions surrounding that preferred outcome.

So far it seems to me that the body of knowledge and accreditation issue has fallen into the cul-de-sac trap.

Apparently a “clean-sheet” approach is being taken to formulating a body of knowledge platform to support the accreditation idea.

In this specific context (of working out a body of knowledge for the qualification to start the process of on-going learning), an absence of any reference to the material produced in the guidelines for incorporating OHS into training packages is a big flaw.  All that can be expected of a new OHS generalist practitioner is competence in the fundamental skills.  To expect anymore is just silly.  Training packages and the associated units of competency target this issue of competency full on.

When it comes to the minimum qualification there is a preconceived idea that it’s essential for a beginner generalist practitioner to already have a degree before they even start the preferred minimum qualification.  (The nature of a graduate diploma is that, as a general rule, one must have an ordinary degree as a pre-requisite.)  This is where we hit the cul-de-sac.

For mine the most significant contribution to the shape, smell and look of the cul-de-sac is who is in charge of deciding on the core knowledge for the qualification.  The guts of this is, will it be better for the community and the profession to have this core knowledge determined by higher education institutions (predominantly universities) or be determined by Industry Skills Councils through the vocational education and training sector (VET).

An important distinction to be made here is that the VET mob are compelled by the Australian Qualifications Framework to formulate and maintain qualifications based on “nationally endorsed competency standards where they exist, or on competency standards developed by relevant industry, enterprise, community or professional groups.”  By comparison the higher education sector institutions are at liberty to set their own academic requirements

“….having regard for requirements set by peer review and the requirements of relevant professional bodies and employer groups….Universities and other self-accrediting institutions are authorised to accredit their own courses.”

So, this comes down to a decision about whether the OHS profession should be looking at its core body of knowledge for entry level qualifications to be set by “nationally endorsed competency standards” or by each university who is at liberty to accredit their own courses.  To date it seems the latter is being preferred.  Hmm … nationally consistency in OHS, a bit of an issue right now.

Does someone have a torch?  I think we have ended up in a cul-de-sac, damn!

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

7 thoughts on “Avoiding the OHS training dead-end”

  1. i was very enthusiast when first start my 5 days ohs course and my enthusiasm took me until level 4 in ohs,unfortunately for me the company i was working for, decided to cut the personnel and i was one of the bunch.
    After that: are 8 years i never have had again the chance to follow my inspiration,and on this stage i\’am only anger with the system and myself,i believe was only time lost, rater to invest that time learning some trade job,it will be more handy at current times.
    Anyway at the moment i\’am unemployed and for the last 8 years i doing laborer work.and no one care about ohs,bosses continuing to push to cut resources, and no one report anything,to scare pending lose the work,but the paper work must be shining for all the bosses and company pretending to have a good ohs management,just because the was no accidents or incident that doesn\’t mean they have i good ohs management,is a matter of time something happen.
    and again when apply for any ohs job the ask you experience and tertiary qualification but were you get the experience if no one give you the opportunity to growing up.
    For me is only paper work to cover companies and bosses,no other word to explain.
    I never seen paper work saving life or injuries to occur,and in the same time the company loosing the trust of the entire work force,it is only business.

  2. Update: Pam Pryor, who is working on the body of knowledge and accreditation program for the SIA kindly responded to my original post on the SIA forum. The killer punch on the issue of accreditation is that the brief from WorkSafe was that the accreditation stuff had to be based on a university qual.

    So, as I said in my reply, the case for using a nationally consistent and already established training and education quality control system, as occurs in VET is quite ironically, academic.

  3. It\’s a key issue you raise Brett. Universities need to be at liberty to approve their own courses. It allows a broad spread of approaches to dealing with any given academic topic, good for a diversity of ideas, good for making sure there is a broad spread of perspectives. It also allows universities to, in effect, offer a unique education \”product\”, not an inconsiderable issue in these days of course fees.

    But when it comes to OHS, particularly given the prominence of the question of national harmony of OHS laws, I don\’t think it\’s a good move to turn your back on nationally consistent competency standards – and by unavoidable association, the qualifications benchmark for OHS practitioners. OH&S World is going gung ho on the merits of national consistency in the law, but not so keen on that when it comes to the base level body of knowledge and quals for the people who\’s job it will be to give practical affect to those laws. I can\’t see how ya make a cogent argument for the punters using that approach; as I mentioned in the original post, an example of moving into a cul-de-sac.

  4. An interesting question at this point Col might be, how does/should an educational institution decide whether it will use it\’s own criteria to decide on accreditation levels and how/when accepted National competency standards should be used. RMIT where I have just completed my Diploma used a National standard, but I\’m not sure whether the Undergrad at RMIT does the same.

    Surely in this world of \”Harmonised Model Laws\” we should be driving the entry level qualification towards a nationally recognised standard.

  5. Roger George and Tony. I have no doubt the whole body of knowledge and accreditation exercise has been a real mind bender. I\’m also conscious of the fact that it can be really irritating for people to come in at later stages of any project with criticisms. But even though it\’s probably impossible to get something like this perfect, I think it\’s also way too important for OH&S-World, the punters and our livelihoods to not sometimes take a big breath, squint at it and check that the project is tracking in a good direction.

  6. Well said Col.

    It would seem pretty much every element of OH&S is all over the shop and the number of cul-de sacs are increasing in direct proportion to the scrambling of many parties trying to dig themselves out of the mire they have created.

  7. Col,

    Some pertinent points I had not thought of.

    I have made it no secret of my belief that the S.I.A. core body of OHS knowledge project had some major problems.

    I wrote a document with some comments on the project, some suggestions on the essential features of a successful revised project and a suggested way to approach the revised project, my intention was to send it to the newly elected Federal President of S.I.A. after the elections.

    After reading this post I am thinking the S.I.A. probably does not have the resources to do the thorough job required on this matter.

    Stuffed if I know who the right people would be.

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