The SIA identifies four big issues for it in 2015

The Safety Institute of Australia‘s (SIA) CEO David Clarke revealed his four big issues for the SIA at a recent breakfast function in Melbourne.

Policy Agenda

Clarke stated that he had instigated the creation of a National Policy Agenda for the SIA – a first for the over 60-year-old registered charity.  Clarke emphasised that the SIA needed to understand the language of government, employers and unions as it relates to safety.  The significance of the agenda was reinforced by Clarke who said that without such a strategy, the SIA would struggle for relevance.


Another priority was the certification of the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession in Australia.  Clarke admitted that this was a controversial move but sees the establishment of a “licence to operate” as vital to increasing the status of the profession. SafetyAtWorkBlog wrote about the certification process, as it stood, last year and more on the issue is available at the SIA website.


The SIA will be redesigning its events process and strategy to emphasise the importance of State branches, networking events and discussion groups. A major plank will be to be more involved with the development and operation of conferences.  The significance of SIA conferences has declined markedly over the last five years and may be facing some competition in the area if, as rumoured, the NSCA Foundation resurrects the FutureSafe conferences (last attempted in 2004).

In relation to conferences, the SIA’s records show that the conference in the 2013/14 financial year raised only $189,953, less than half of the previous year ($588,256).  The records also show that these events are running at a loss. Perhaps OHS conferences are not the cash cows that some have been in the past.

[Edit/Update 26/2/15, I have been advised that the NSCA Foundation is the new name of the National Safety Council of Australia since Wesfarmers purchased the NSCA training and services “brand”.  The member services, the magazine, events and any conferences are the responsibility of the NSCA Foundation.  The Foundation has advised that it cannot access any funds from Wesfarmers as the Foundation is not related to Wesfarmers (even though the Charities register listing of NSCA Foundation includes a financial statement from Wesfarmers, with an explanatory of the Foundation’s “creation”).  NSCA Foundation members are able to access any of the NSCA (Wesfarmers) services or products at discounted rates.  So a dotted line, perhaps a legacy dotted line, remains.]

SIA Endorsement of Training

SIA’s David Clarke’s last big issue for 2015 was his statement that vocational training courses will be endorsed by the SIA. This seems a remarkable move given that for many years some of the executives in the SIA have displayed what some have taken as a disdain for the vocational education sector by focussing almost entirely on the tertiary education sector.

Clark says that he has been told that there is a massive problem with the quality of OHS training in Australia both in the vocational and private sector.  He denied that the endorsement process is an empire-building or money-making exercise.  But what does not seem to have been considered is whether the endorsement of courses by the SIA is the best way to address this “massive problem”.

Concerns over the broad vocational training sector have existed for some time but whether any analysis of the OHS/WHS sector has been undertaken is unclear.  The SIA is an advocate of evidence-based decision- and policy-making and may need to provide more evidence than just anecdotes to justify the endorsement program.  It can also be argued that the SIA would have a greater effect on the sector by participating in this governmental process rather than adding another level of complexity.

It is also unlikely that, given the attitude of the SIA to vocational and private training in the past, any training organisation or body would even open the door to a discussion with them.  It is hard to see how this initiative provides benefits to the SIA members.

Perhaps the best that can be said about the Safety Institute of Australia is that it continues to try.  The decline in finances and status over the last few years has been largely of its own making through ridiculous infighting, law suits, accusations of financial fraud, ethics hearings, and member suspensions.  It has restructured its operations and its reporting methods but, largely, members have seen no positive change.

At the moment, the SIA’s health problems are in remission but the cure still seems far away.  Many of the current changes suggested by David Clarke have potential but whether they are enough to withstand the changing landscape of the OHS profession might be beyond the SIA.

Kevin Jones

Kevin Jones has been a Fellow of the SIA for many years.


Categories business, communication, conference, consultation, economics, education, executives, OHS, Professional standards, risk, safety

8 thoughts on “The SIA identifies four big issues for it in 2015”

  1. David, don’t get me started about the SIA, you guys happily waved me CFSIA) out the door after 8 years (with no activity) and I endorse all of Kevin’s critique and more from professional and personal experience. I agree with the ‘in remission’ perception. Until the old club mentality goes and something fresh and innovative comes in, I stand opposed to the non-representation of safety by the association of the ‘few for the many’. As for the territory fixation and conflict of interest in accreditation, so transparent and a sign of old SIA.

  2. David wrote, “The simpler, ‘cash cow’ approach to training might be for us to do what others have done: start up our own training and promote that. ”

    I believe that any member organisation that does this will create issues for themselves as members who already supply these services will see it as direct competition. Why pay for a membership of an organisation that is meant to represent me and assist me when that organisation will directly compete with me delivering OHS training? Doesn’t make sense and I believe this is a significant issue with the likes of the NSCA, IFAP and others.

    David wrote, “I appreciate Luke’s suggestion of working with skills councils. We have already begun to do that. I do not however believe that this in itself will solve the problem.”

    It won’t necessarily solve the problem but creating another layer of bureaucracy and approvals that RTO’s have to meet will only create even more work for them. They already need to meet ASQA, VRQA or others and then we want to add in a possibility of SIA approval. Then depending on which courses they offer, they might need to meet FPAA’s approval and on and on it goes.

    Where and when does it stop? I closed my last RTO that I owned as the compliance requirements were becoming so onerous and time consuming. I found myself meeting compliance requirements and not delivering training and assessment.

  3. Kevin,
    Firstly good one about the show cause notice.
    ….and damn! I apologise profusely about your name.
    Secondly you may be a critic but you are a member. I said when I started that we will value our members and we will.
    Thirdly, your comments on our need to prove our worth are noted. We need to do this. What I’m saying is that we’re underway.
    Fourthly, our partnership with IFAP relates to shared approaches to undertaking events, primarily in WA. We have no agreement with them about their training.
    If a corporate member offers SIA members some form of special deal (insurers, recruiters or even trainers) we will pass on to members the knowledge of that offer as it contains value relating to membership of the SIA.
    However we will not actively promote anyone’s training – member or not – unless we are satisfied with the quality of that training. Nor will we, after we have established the program, even promote special offers regarding training unless that training is endorsed. No amount of money will ‘buy’ an endorsement. That’s not how we do things.
    Finally, good to see a long standing member approached and invited to participate. I hope you further consider the offer of VIC branch colleagues.

  4. Thanks for responding David. Engaging with critics is a great indication of change in leadership. Previously, I would have received a lawyer’s letter and a show cause notice.

    (By the way, I am Kevin)

    It’s good to hear of new members, are you able to quote numbers?

    SIA members have been told for many years that the organisation is growing but the membership numbers quoted have been between 3,000 and 4,500 for at least 20 years, to my knowledge. At that time SIA’s David Skegg bemoaned the fact that there were thousands of OHS professionals who weren’t members and compared the SIA to AHRI. My response was that the SIA needed to prove its worth to the OHS profession. I believe it is still struggling.

    I am sure that there are few OHS professionals in Australia who have not been through the SIA at some time in their careers. Part of the problem the SIA has had seems to have been in retaining these members. The stable band of membership over 20 years would indicate that the SIA has experienced a churn of members.

    Last year you announced that the SIA has established a relationship with a registered training organisation, IFAP . How has this “significant partnership” influenced the SIA’s endorsement strategy and policy agenda? I would have thought this relationship would have been relevant to last week’s presentation and your comment above.

    I will acknowledge that, in some ways, the SIA is more communicative than previously. Newsletters are more common and the quality of the member publication has increased, a point I have made elsewhere on this blog, but the SIA is not leading in this area. The SIA can no longer describe itself as pre-eminent or the leading OHS organisation in Australia as there are many other players in the OHS communications market who are better resourced.

    I was approached by several members at the recent breakfast asking for my help in developing the conference strategy and assisting with social media. I am seriously considering these offers but the appalling and unjust conduct of SIA executive members in the past decade towards myself is not easily forgotten, particularly when some of those members continue in executive roles.

    I applaud your effort to rebuild the reputation of the SIA after it was severely damaged through its own bitter infighting, and greatly appreciate you beginning a dialogue with the SafetyAtWorkBlog.

  5. Thanks for your perspectives Keith.

    Firstly, some observations about training in the workplace health and safety field. As I said in my presentation, there is very broad level of agreement that workplace health and safety training is highly variable, and that there are concerns about the negative impact that lower quality training has on safety in workplaces, and the capacity for employers to have access to good advice. If there is one single thing that has broad agreement amongst the stakeholders of every sector of membership, government, unions and industry I have personally engaged with, it is this. This is augmented for me by my own further reading on the subject. However, in order to make the issue clear to those who may still not have an awareness of the issue, we may well need to present some of the evidence to show that the problem exists.

    In terms of what to do about the problem (let’s assume for the moment it exists): The simpler, ‘cash cow’ approach to training might be for us to do what others have done: start up our own training and promote that. Having set up a couple of RTO’s myself (as Luke has), I see it as a real possibility and with great potential for revenue.

    Although I wouldn’t rule out this approach in future, we are less concerned about money as we are about the bigger question of influencing the overall quality of training over a period of time and across the sector, so another approach is also needed. I appreciate Luke’s suggestion of working with skills councils. We have already begun to do that. I do not however believe that this in itself will solve the problem. Luke, I would be happy to share an e-mail or call if you have further thoughts on the issue.

    I find it extraordinary Keith that you could not see that any effort we put into improving the quality of training in health and safety across the board is not in some way a benefit to members and the profession. The SIA has a responsibility to seek to have an influence on the reduction of injury, illness and death in the workplace. And, it’s our members that have been talking very loudly about this issue. Our members also access this training!

    You’re also surprised we are interested. I and the board of the SIA know that there are tens of thousands of people who engage at all levels of workplace health and safety, who all have an influence on that health and safety. It’s not just about the full time practitioners and professionals. Workplace Health and Safety training for everyone is important. Rather than expressing incredulity, what say we just take this as a welcome development ?

    In summary regarding the training ‘problem’, my question is, how can we all make a difference with this issue? The SIA’s approach will not be one dimensional. Luke made a suggestion. I’m very interested to hear other ideas. e-mail me.

    Secondly I reject your observation that the best you can say is that we are ‘continu(ing) to try’. The leaders in the SIA are not just working hard for members, they’re changing the way we do things in practical ways. Saying the SIA is ‘in remission” implies we have a deadly disease. You also suggest major threats to our existence from agencies such as the NSCA. While agencies like the NSCA are relevant to us and players in workplace health and safety, I believe your comments reflect an incorrect assessment of (a) our place in the market and the structure of that market; and (b) our current and future potential. We have work to do, but we’re not reliant on increased conference revenue, nor necessarily the actions or inactions of agencies such as the NSCA to be successful. We know the market we are in, we’re working on the things that matter and we think we are on the right track(s).

    I strongly disagree with your comment that ‘largely, members have seen no positive change’. You and I clearly have a different kind of exposure to SIA members in recent months. I accept that you may share this view with some of your readers, but I have had a steadily increasing level of positive feedback from members in the five months I have been in this role. This includes some previously very dissatisfied members. It’s not all been sweetness and light, but it’s based on staff speaking directly in this period to more than 1000 of our members. Statistically, we have had a decrease in complaints – both direct and indirect on various social media – as well as the emergence of unsolicited positive written feedback on a number of issues. We have also just had the single largest monthly new member intake (January 2015) than for any month in the past 5 years.

    The positive feedback is welcome because we have a growing number of member events and activity occurring in the branches. Our focus is on improving value for the membership, and increasing the standing of the profession. We have improved our communications, and we are still working on fixing many other things directly related to member services. We’re not there yet but we’re on our way and people have started to notice the changes.

    Finally, in addition to the critiques of our new initiatives, is there anything that you or any other SIA members reading this would like us to be doing that we are not ? Send me an e-mail:
    Throw some good ideas our way. The sector needs good ideas, we are open to them, and our members are our most valuable resource for them.

    Kind regards
    David Clarke
    CEO, SIA

  6. Commend SIA for trying – but underlying issues have been ignored – they relate to governance. They still have 2 directors who should have had their nominations rejected; and the vested interests around certification is of great concern

  7. The last thing vocational training needs is another organisation sticking their nose in. It’s not just OHS training that is a mess- there’s many issues with vocational training across the board.

    Having set up 2 RTO’s and managed another 2, the last thing I want to see is SIA weighing in and trying to “fix” things. They need to work with the various Skills Councils, not on their own.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Concatenate Web Development
© Designed and developed by Concatenate Aust Pty Ltd