More barriers appear to safety education reform

The latest edition of National Safety magazine reports on the voluntary accreditation of OHS university courses.  The article is generally supportive of the initiative administered by the Australian OHS Education Accreditation Board (AOHSEAB), but hints at some of the problems and should have clarified some of the organisational linkages.

There is no mention in the article of the professional, administrative and financial links between AOHSEAB and the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA).  There is no mention of Pam Pryor’s membership with the SIA even though she is the AOHSEAB’s registrar, a Fellow of the SIA and secretary of the SIA’s Education Chapter, although the Fellow status of Professor Dino Pisaniello is noted later in the article.

The strong linkages between the AOHSEAB and the SIA provide an important context to the comments of Greg Stagbouer, an SIA Director, who “agrees on the need to change” and

“for graduates [to] have a higher and broader understanding of safety.”

Well he would, wouldn’t he?

The article also discusses the accreditation process with representatives of the National Safety Council of Australia (NSCA).  They support the need for the process but will continue to strengthen their role in Vocational Education and Training (VET).

In fact the article seems to illustrate a split in safety education – the AOHSEAB/Universities (and SIA) looking after “safety professionals” and the NSCA and other Registered Training Organisations for the “safety practitioner”. The NSCA stresses the importance of practical work experience in VET courses where the AOHSEAB appears to support the academic career.  Perhaps there is also a bit of divide between white-collar and blue-collar work.

What is not on display is a clear and effective pathway for the “man on the tools” to progress to safety management. Joseph Fischetti, a graduate safety advisor with BHP Billiton, said the university course

“didn’t teach me how to interact or understand what’s going on out in the field.  I’d like to see the companies getting together with the universities to design courses that cover what graduates need to know in the workplace that would be more useful.”

Fischetti’s point also fits with the debate on productivity.  Why should companies have to devote resources and considerable time in (re)educating graduates to a level of functionality that should have been provided by the universities?

NSCA’s CEO Adam Baldock makes the following argument while SIA’s Greg Stagbouer acknowledges professional certification is still an uncertain process.

“You cannot beat experience and therefore there should be certification for long-time practitioners without qualifications from accredited courses… While the ‘professional’ label will give some employers and customers of OHS professionals some solace that they are getting someone that should know what they are doing, it does not mean they actually do know what they are doing and that is where experience wins.”

The National Safety article was not intended to look into the relationship of the SIA and the AOHSEAB but the relationship is relevant to the degree of “independence” that the AOHSEAB claims.

Clearly the discussion on safety education is far more complex than the impression given by AOHSEAB and SIA newsletters as there is a large slice of the workforce that will never be touched by course accreditations, is not with an employer who provides study leave or even the flexibility to attend courses, and who may not be able to afford anything more than TAFE or VET courses.  If safety is to be an integral part of how workers, and future workers, undertake their tasks there has to be an agreed pathway to professional development in OHS.  At the moment it seems as far away as ever.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories BHP Billiton, business, education, OHS, research, safety, UncategorizedTags , ,

4 thoughts on “More barriers appear to safety education reform”

  1. Dear Kevin,

    I think you are being over-critical of the situation. The \”man on the tools\” can progress to a VET qualification, and then to a University qualification. Workplace experience in university programs is available through practicums and internships, but it is not the job of the University to provide much beyond that. Many, if not most, of those in postgraduate University OHS programs already have jobs and are seeking to advance their careers and/or knowedge and apply the critical insights.
    We have had many students who have done the hard road from VET to University (and not just in OHS).
    One has to ask the questions: \”How important is it to have a University education in OHS?\”. What can Universities contribute?
    I contributed to an article in 2005 (see link below), which raised this issue.

    In my view, there is a role for VET and there is a role for Universities. I have taught in both and the passion is in the VET sector.
    However, don\’t confuse passion with need.
    We need Universities to systematically advance the area, generate/evaluate the evidence, and translate theory into practice, and also question the dogma. That\’s what University students should learn.
    The case in point, Joseph Fischetti, is an excellent student, but made the choice to obtain a job, rather than to continue his studies to include a practicum. Incidentally, I also learned from the school of hard knocks, before getting a formal University qualification.

    The debate about practitioner and professional has a great deal of unnecessary negativity. In the end, aren\’t we just talking about the relationships between VET and universities?
    The AOHSEAB is operating for the University sector, and its time has come.

    Dino Pisaniello

    1. Dino

      Thanks very much for your comment. The flow, or pathway, through the education system needs to be repeatedly stated so that it can be seen where new initiatives, like AOHSEAB, fit.

      Any \”unnecessary negativity\” will be redressed by informed comment like yours.

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