OHS Professionals get, or want, global attention

Pages from INSHPO_2015-OHS_Professional_Capability_FrameworkThe International Network of Safety & Health Practitioner Organisations (INSHPO) has launched the “The OHS Professional
Capability Framework – A Global Framework for Practice“.  The document reflects many of the issues raised in recently published research on occupational health and safety (OHS) professionalism, accreditation and certification.  However there are a couple of useful issues to note, from a very brief review, that indicate a major step forward.

Professional, Practitioner, Generalist

Australian OHS professionals have felt insulted over the last few years by the use of the title “OHS Generalist”.  The proponents of this concept failed to understand that the term was divisive (and insulting to some) and this failure indicates a persistent problem in communicating change to the OHS profession in a manner that fosters cooperation.  The INSHPO document seems to drop the Generalist category so beloved by the Australian OHS Education Accreditation Board.  It instead applies two categories – the Practitioner and the Professional.  This is a much clearer split and should ease some of the distress but in effect this categorisation will rarely been see in the workplace reality as an OHS professional needs skills from both categories to be useful and functional. It will be interesting to see if Australia accepts the INSHPO position.

The INSHPO framework provides this profile of the OHS Professional:

“OHS Professionals design an organisation’s OHS management strategy within the wider context of business processes and external regulatory, market and societal influences. Influential with senior management, they are advisers and consultants involved in problem solving and organisational review/change. Mediated by experience, analysis of evidence and critical thought, their advice is based on conceptual and technical knowledge of design and operations, enabling them to extend their understanding and control to novel, unknown and complex risks and their controls. OHS Professionals understand how to access, use, critically evaluate and develop the evidence base and they value professional collaboration. They are likely to work solo or give direction to others. In the majority of cases they gain their OHS education through the higher education sector.” (page 6)

And of the OHS Practitioner:

“OHS Practitioners implement strategies and actions usually designed by an OHS Professional. They support a safe working environment by maintaining OHS administrative processes, conducting basic training and using a range of state-of-the-art tools, processes and standard practice solutions to manage OHS risks. Particularly focused on evaluating routine and well-known processes and work, OHS Practitioners oversee and drive monitoring and compliance in relation to technical and behavioural risk controls. They are likely to have a focus on the workplace and the organisation’s primary processes and communicate predominantly at middle management, supervisor and shop-floor levels. They usually work under direct or indirect supervision or mentorship and have positions focused on known contexts within established parameters. Within those parameters they have substantial personal responsibility for the planning and quality of their own work. They usually gain their OHS education through the vocational or technical education sector.” (pages 6-7)

The Professional mostly deals with senior management and executives and the Practitioner with middle managers, supervisors and workers.  It is possible to see this split in many workplaces – Staff to Worker, or Corporate to Shopfloor, or Regional Office to Head Office and many more two-tiered organisational structures. INSHPO could claim that it is building on this dualistic reality but workplace safety is supposed to bridge any organisational divides and INSHPO’s members need to provide skills and pathways to progress from Practitioner to Professional, and for Professionals to learn how the practice.

Capability over Competence

The document’s introduction states INSHPO’s preference for Capability over Competence (page 4), an issue discussed recently HERE. However there is an inconsistency in the application of this preference. On page 15, INSHPO states that

“An OHS Professional who is fully competent (i.e., has completed education and a period of practical experience) is expected, at minimum, to operate at the level of applying for every knowledge category, at analysing for the majority of the knowledge and, depending on the level of the professional, at evaluating and synthesizing for many areas of knowledge.”

Surely this should have started “A capable OHS Professional…..”.

Comparison

INSHPO writes that

“The relationship of the OHS Professional to the OHS
profession is analogous to that of the general practitioner in the medical profession.” (page 10)

This sounds logical but comparison to a  medical practitioner may prove problematic.

It may have been more applicable to compare the OHS Practitioner to the General (Medical) Practitioner and the OHS Professional to the Medical Specialist.  As the Australian Medical Association shows in its (elaborate) Doctor Life Cycle the medical students move through the general practitioner training and may choose to continue to specialise. (It would be good to see a similar graphic for INSHPO’s proposals)

However INSHPO’s document implies that the split between OHS Professional and OHS Practitioner is more analogous to the Professional being a Doctor and a Practitioner being a Nurse.  There are historical and professional reasons for the categorisation of Doctors and Nurses but modern medical needs and circumstances are decreasing the gap between the two and have introduced overlapping duties in some areas.  This contemporary overlap in medical services indicates future pathways for which INSHPO will need to prepare, and explain.

ANTS

The Framework devotes a very useful chapter to Skills.  This is based on Bloom’s Taxonomy, as other chapters are, but it seems a little behind the current emphasis in many professions, including OHS, on Associated Non-Technical Skills (ANTS).

The NSW Mine Safety Advisory Council has been promoting ANTS since at least 2009 and has released a series of factsheets  specifically in the context of building a “world-leading OHS culture”.

Professor David Caple advised the Central Safety Group on 10 November 2015 that ANTS is gaining increased attention in the Victorian emergency services as a means of clarifying communications to decrease errors.

Bloom’s Taxonomy has come in for some criticism in Australia’s OHS sector and it can be argued that a taxonomy based on education may not be sufficiently flexible to meet business needs.

INSHPO’s Performance Criteria in the Skills chapter deserve close attention.  Their usefulness is obvious but will require refinement as they remain very generic and it should be possible to combine many of the criteria.  Reading them alongside some of the ANTS work will help greatly.

The Future

According to a media release from the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) about the release of the OHS Professional Capability Framework, the next stage will be the development of a similar framework for the OHS Practitioner.

Patrick Murphy, Chair of the Safety Institute of Australia, stated that

“…the completion of the OHS Practitioner Framework, which together with accreditation of OHS education and certification of OHS Professionals and OHS Practitioners will contribute to the step-change for the OHS profession in Australia.”

The Professional Framework has provided the best and most useful information yet about the qualities that the SIA and its companion associations believe safety professionals require.  Of course, this is only a framework and each country’s professional associations can apply it however they want.

The Framework is one of the most tangible actions of INSHPO over its existence and should be commended, valued and discussed.  The SIA’s media release states that INSHPO is the

“….global voice for the occupational health and safety profession”.

If this is the case, the voice is only a whisper as many readers would be asking “Who is this INSHPO, and what has it done in the past?”

The release of the OHS Professional Capability Framework is an interesting and important development in the debate over the qualifications and certification of OHS professionals in Australia and deserves close consideration and lots of questioning.  One of this author’s questions is why release a Professional Framework and not the Practitioner Framework at the same time?

Kevin Jones

Categories accreditation, communication, education, OHS, Professional standards, professionalism, research, safety, state of knowledge

2 thoughts on “OHS Professionals get, or want, global attention”

  1. Hi Kevin
    You articulate your opiniin and thoughts quite well. In a past post it is noted that because of a lack of tertiary qualifications you wouldn’t recieve certification. Why wouldn’t you go and update to stay relevent? It is obvious you are capable. I have just completed 6 years of study to be able to be certified by the sia.
    Cheers
    Peter Attwood

    1. Peter, when I have the time and the money, I will be undertaking more tertiary studies in OHS. But this is not motivated by certification, but by increasing my employment chances in this sector.

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