Unanswered questions on Safety Institute activities

Earlier this year, the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) launched its OHS Body of Knowledge (BoK) project, an excellent collection of workplace safety information and research but one that has had restrictions imposed on it that seem contrary to its purpose.

SafetyAtWorkBlog has communicated repeatedly to the SIA about the BoK project and the, seemingly, related operation of the Australian OHS Education Accreditation Board (AOHSEAB) but, although the communications have been acknowledged, no responses have been received.  Some of the questions go to the heart of the meaning of an OHS profession and body of knowledge but also to the relationships of various organisations under, or connected to, the SIA such as the Health and Safety Professionals Association (HaSPA) and AOHSEAB.

OHS Body of Knowledge

BoK contains over 30 articles about most of the major workplace safety issues of modern times.  These have been produced by some of the most prominent OHS researchers in Australia.  But it can only be read on a computer screen and the PDF files have a security level that forbids any cutting and pasting.  Why would this important safety information be any different to guidance and data that OHS regulators provide for fair use?  The SIA has never provided a reason for this peculiar approach to spreading OHS knowledge.

The SIA professes the organisation to be about the following:

“We are committed to creating a profession that can deliver the highest standards of OHS and we do this through the engagement of our individual members, corporate and strategic partners, governing bodies and key profession stakeholders.

Through the SIA, individuals have access to qualified timely advice into public policy and regulation, research and development to advance OHS knowledge and guidance. We have developed a body of knowledge to set health and safety standards, procedures and practices to be adopted on a national basis across the profession.”

SafetyAtWorkBlog posed the following questions to the appropriate contact person, Pam Pryor, Registrar, of the  Australian OHS Education Accreditation Board  in early May 2012.  The AOHSEAB issued its first ever newsletter on 5 July 2012. (Hyperlinks have been added)

“Does HaSPA  or the SIA have a promotional strategy for bringing BoK to the OHS profession?”

“The BoK website states that

“The material may be downloaded and used for reasonable personal, or in-house, non-commercial use for the purposes of workplace health and safety as long as you attribute the work using the citation guidelines below and do not charge fees directly or indirectly for use of the material.”

The copyright notice in the chapters states that

“You are free to reproduce the material for reasonable personal… use…”

I can download the chapters but the security protections stop me from using them for my “reasonable personal use”.  Why have the BoK chapters been released with security protections that prevent printing or copying of text?  The BoK website statement appears to contradict the chapter copyright notice.”

“Were any of the writers paid in any way for their contributions?”

SafetyAtWorkBlog has been told that contributors to BoK were not paid for their time or contribution.

“Were all the articles peer-reviewed and who were those peers?”

Each peer reviewer is listed in the first few pages of each BoK chapter.

“Did HaSPA consider using the Creative Commons copyright option?”

“The $390,000 grant from WorkSafe in June 2009 is publicly acknowledged by HaSPA [administered by the SIA]. How much did the entire [BoK] project end up costing? If additional funding was required, can you name those funding sources?”

“I note that the SIA Is the “contract holder and responsible for financial governance”, according to a draft January 2010 Technical Panel report.  Who is the suitable contact in the SIA for me to pose contractual questions?  Will the SIA be publishing any financial statements on behalf of HaSPA?”

“I remember you talking at an SIA function some years ago about involvement in an OHS knowledge project from the Carrick Institute.  What was their role and what did the SIA receive from Carrick’s involvement?”

“In the 2008 Vic Annual Report the SIA stated that the SIA Educators Chapter had received a grant from the Australian Learning and Teaching Council for a project that sounds very similar to BoK.  The 2008 National Annual Report clearly states that this project was separate from the BoK and said that

“The outcomes of this forum and the underpinning research will be disseminated within the Australian OHS community in 2009 and will, hopefully, serve as a platform for the continual improvement of OHS education in Australia.”

How much was that ALTC grant for, were the outcomes of the forum and the underpinning research ever disseminated, and how has that project contributed to the  “continual improvement of OHS education in Australia”?”

“From the very start of the project, HaSPA intended for the BoK to benefit the whole OHS profession by establishing a sound knowledge base.  How will the BoK benefit those OHS professionals who operate outside of current tertiary courses and the “self-educators?”

“From the start of the BoK project some OHS professionals felt that applying the term “generalist” to some safety professionals was a derogatory term often used by academic elitists.  This is not helped when BoK uses seemingly contradictory phrases like “…generalist OHS professionals have a ‘specialist” role”.  How does the BoK help a generalist progress directly or can progress only be achieved through tertiary studies?””

Australian OHS Education Accreditation Board

SafetyAtWorkBlog has written about the murkiness that seems to surround the AOHSEAB and the SIA.  The real and perceived independence of the AOHSEAB is an important element in establishing a validity to the Board’s operations, its programs and, to some extent, the Body of Knowledge which provides a foundation for many of the Board’s actions.  Below are the questions put to the SIA [links added]:

“Does the OHS Educators Chapter of the SIA still exist as a Chapter?

What is meant by the Accreditation Board being “auspiced” by the SIA? Does the SIA fund the operation of the Board?

I have only been able to access the 2009/10 National Annual Report [of the SIA] and there is no mention of plans to establish an Accreditation Board. Can you please provide me with a copy of the 2010/11 National Annual Report? Does that Annual Report include Financial Statements?

The media release says that universities are “lining up” for the accreditation process. Other than Latrobe University, can you please provide me with an indication of how many are “lining up”?

Is there an estimation of the cost to universities who enter the accreditation process?

Is there any financial benefit to SIA members who choose to undertake an accredited OHS course?

Does the SIA have a flowchart or organisational chart that illustrates the relationships of the Accreditation Board, Educators Chapter, HaSPA, INSHPO and other affiliated bodies with the SIA and its Board? If so, are you able to share?

…. How will the SIA manage any potential conflicts of interest for people involved in more than one SIA-affiliated body?”

AOHSEAB’s first newsletter sort of answers some of these questions.  It says that

“The Accreditation Board is established under the By Laws of the Safety Institute of Australian with the SIA providing infrastructure, administrative support and specialist support in the form of media and IT support together with some funding. The Accreditation Board is an independent body in relation to setting of standards and decision-making related to accreditation.”

Clarification of this quote seems to say that the Accreditation Board was established by the SIA, with the SIA providing an office or mailing address, administrative support, media support, information technology (probably the website) and some money. The newsletter restates that curious statement that AOHSEAB is “auspiced” the SIA.  From the AOHSEAB’s own newsletter it seems the AOHSEAB is part of the Safety Institute of Australia.

AOHSEAB stresses it has independence (only) “in relation to setting of standards and decision-making related to accreditation”. One would hope so, as this is the core function of any accreditation board.

Safety Institute of Australia

The SIA has had several years of vicious internal disputation, some of which is continuing though the West Australian courts.  This turmoil has substantially damaged the SIA’s reputation, such as it had, in the business, OHS  and political communities.

It appears that the recent Safety In Action conference in Melbourne had one of its lowest attendance rates for many years.  Not so long ago, the conference tipped over one thousand participants.  Some have estimated the attendance at the 2012 conference at around 300.

The number of SIA members seems to hover around 4,000.  Over a decade ago, the membership figures were around 3,000.  The SIA has always struggled to substantiate its membership numbers which is odd given that membership subscription require renewing annually. Four thousand members is nowhere near the size of other professional associations with whom the SIA likes to compare.

The SIA continues to struggle on many fronts, even with a new corporate structure and new CEO.  It also continues to struggle with its communications and transparency.  If HaSPA, AOHSEAB and whoever runs BoK are independent from the Safety Institute, structure then say so and be open.  If these organisations are part of the SIA, the relationship should be clear and unambivalent.  At the moment the success of these “secondary” operations appears to be impeded by their association with the SIA just as much as they are benefiting.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

10 thoughts on “Unanswered questions on Safety Institute activities”

  1. ‘Purchase the new Core Body of Knowledge for Generalist OHS Professionals hardcover book from SIA.’ via SIA OHS Professional Round Up… $450 for the hardcover book – why give it away for free when you can get paid to put it in a book?

  2. Well questioned Kevin.
    Safety provides best benefit when we all work together, not when elitists serve their own personal agendas.
    Questioning is always a reality check and those who question or complain should be listened to and effort put into understanding their point of view. In doing this we can learn how to do do better. In failing to listen, elitists feed and prosper, prejucice and disunity.
    True leaders listen, seek understanding and show respect through answering questions without prejudice.
    As a person in the centre of the past three years of bitter internal SIA disputation, I confirm the validity of Kevins questioning. Only one correction, some of the continuing disputation is in the Supreme Court not the West Australian Courts. The issues leading up to initiation of legal action commenced in 2000 and reached a peak with an event happening on July 7, 2009. The matters commenced their decent into the legal areana when the SIA President in consort with the SIA Public Officer engaged a lawyer without the consent or authority of the Committee, and prejudicialy proceeded to oppress and prevent the elected Secretary from completing his lawful duty. 3 years have now past and a trial is getting close. It is only going to trial because the SIA failed to bring to account those who breached the ethics objects of the SIA and then chose to promote them to life membership. That promotion of disputation by the SIA has caused a split in the Safety Industry and has directly resulted in the formation of a new organisation, Safety In Workplaces Australia (SIWA Ltd) being created to promote ethical support and promotion of Safety Professionals.
    Kevin, you can be assured of receiving answers to any question you put to Safety in Workplaces Australia.
    Keep up the good work.

  3. And we expect the community to be in a “safe place” when we don’t know that membership of an organisation such as SIA confers any real credibility ????

    A thoroughly good article Kevin.

    1. Thnaks to everyone for the positive comments about this article, an article which is, essentially, as its title states, a list of questions that have not been answered.

      This article is as much about the lack of response and communication as it is about the content of the questions. And, of course, no organisation is obliged to answer questions from a writer or journalist but I think it is always better to engage with questioners than ignore them.

      As the article states, these questions are weeks or months old. Plenty of time, in my opinion, for at least some answers to come……..

    1. A reader has emailed this comment

      “….accreditation was basically through government and under the Australian Qualifications Framework – as summarised on their site: “Each State and Territory has legislative responsibility for authorising the issuance of qualifications in the senior secondary schools, vocational education and training and higher education sectors. Universities are empowered through State and Territory legislation to accredit their own qualifications and issue testamurs.” Further, “The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) is Australia’s regulatory and quality agency for higher education. TEQSA’s primary aim is to ensure that students receive a high quality education at any Australian higher education provider.””

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