If you build it, they will come

Cover of SIA_draft_Strategic_Plan_ConsulationThe Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) continues to rebuild its reputation and its credibility.  In February 2016 it released a draft Strategic Planning Framework and is seeking public comment. (Consultation closes on March 25)  A major difference in this approach is that the SIA is encouraging this draft plan to be distributed widely, outside of the SIA’s membership and is seeking comments from non-members.  The SIA has never been known for its transparency and this new openness is to be applauded.

Interested parties are encouraged to provide the SIA with as much feedback as possible on the draft framework.

The SIA Chairman, Patrick Murphy, has advised members that the framework is a

“five year rolling strategic plan which is reviewed annually, to maintain our strategic focus and ensure we have our eye on the things that matter.”

Although Murphy and others stress that this is a “high level” plan that is intended to set the policies for an operational plan. That reality robs the draft framework of some of its punch because the weakness with any high-level plan is the lack of information on how the aims are to be met.

These details, promised in an operational plan, are important for any plan that is to be “reviewed annually”.  What metrics are to be applied? Are there rewards for achievement or penalties for failure? Will the review be conducted internally? Such questions should be asked of any organisation’s strategic framework or plan.

Members and Profession

A core obligation of the SIA has been to promote and support its members.  Previously this was considered to be enough as the SIA believed that its membership was representative of the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession in Australia. One of the earliest clashes this writer had with the SIA Executive was on this matter of numbers and influence.  The SIA admitted that there were around four times as many people identifying as safety professionals in Australia than the SIA had members.  Mischievously, I suggested that this meant that the SIA may need to reassess its approach and strategies.  That was almost twenty years ago but the issue of numbers and influence remains.

The SIA’s draft framework interweaves obligations to both its members and the profession.  This acknowledges that the SIA does not represent every OHS professional but that it can still be an effective advocate on behalf of safety professionals.  In some ways the SIA’s predicament is similar to that of the union movement where one’s efforts create benefits beyond one’s members.  Hopefully, this benevolence may cause some in the community/profession to take up membership.  It’s a long term strategy and is unlikely to capture everyone but that is where the matter of influence outweighs numbers and it seems SIA’s priority is to build influence. (“If you build it, they will come”)

The SIA’s draft framework lists five focus areas:

“Capability – To develop the skills, knowledge and capability of the profession.

Policy and research – To be a strong policy voice for the membership, positively influencing Australian health and safety policy and regulation and promoting the profession. To contribute to practice development through the promotion of research.

Engagement – To achieve better OHS/WHS outcomes by leveraging relationships with members and other stakeholders.

Member services – To deliver exemplary services and support to our members.

Successful business – To ensure a sustainable and well-managed organisation, utilising member funds responsibly and effectively.”

The emphases illustrate the blending of the broader professional needs in the SIA’s framework.

Possibly the most significant area is the last one when considering how difficult it can be to operate in the not-for-profit and charity sector.  A topical example of this challenge can be seen in the falling fortunes of the Shane Warne Foundation.


The SIA is seeking public comment through the mechanism of an online survey. This option is understandable but parts of the survey are very clumsy.

To give the most informed response it is necessary to have the draft framework in hard copy because the survey does not include the five-year goals or objectives on which the respondent is being asked whether they strongly agree, etc. The survey would have been easier to complete if this information had been included on the screen as part of each question.

An important omission from the framework review process is any encouragement to provide public comment in any mechanism other than the online survey.  In terms of resources and the handling of data this is understandable but the online survey is a limited consultative mechanism and could have been supported by response templates that are commonly used in other public comment processes.

Anyone interested in the safety profession in Australia is strongly encouraged to comment on the draft framework but are also encouraged to take copies of any comments they make on each of the questions and compile them into a separate document for review prior to emailing to the SIA.

Safety management and member-based organisations are both based on consultation and in both instances, consultation can be difficult.  The Safety Institute of Australia is consulting on its future strategy and not only consulting with members.  This is a terrific development for the SIA and augers well.

SafetyAtWorkBlog looks forward to a similar level of transparency with the survey results.

Kevin Jones

Note: I edited the introduction of the publication.

Categories consultation, evidence, OHS, Professional standards, safety

4 thoughts on “If you build it, they will come”

  1. I would worry a lot less about humanities as I would with business degrees. As a recent graduate of an MBA at a prominent tertiary institution, I was dismayed that two years yielded perhaps one hour of safety-based content. Until the future CEOs have a grounded knowledge of the basics of safety and risk management, we will continue to have a challenge on our hands. Compare how easily the professions of law, accounting or even HR have in convincing Boards of the merits of their positions. We have a very long way to go in this area.
    In regards to transparency, I’m not sure how the SIA could be any more transparent. The BoK is owned, funded and run by a component of the SIA. Tertiary education providers based their courses on the BoK, as overseen by the AOHSEAB. Simple.

  2. Interesting Kevin, I find the strategy quite narrow within the band of ‘SIA think’. I wonder where a ‘peak’ holds government and policy makers (regulators) accountable for dumb ideas and poor trajectory in policy? Where is any sense of reform of the WHS curriculum that is absolutely bankrupt in skill development in the humanities (an essential if safety ever wants to be a profession)? Where is the ethical rationale for conflict of interest with the accreditation board, indeed, one mention of it in the strategy and only in passing??? I could go on but doubt if my reflections and critical thinking would be welcome under the rubric of ‘openness and transparency’. They certainly were not welcome in 8 years as CFSIA.

    1. Rob, I encourage everyone, regardless of history with the SIA, to comment on the strategy.

      From what I see, the SIA is continuing to accredit OHS tertiary courses to get the courses to include the same core OHS elements that are aligned with the OHS Body of Knowledge but none of those elements are expansive into the Humanities. I would encourage universities to offer Humanities electives, in the short term, that relate to the OHS units as OHS professionals need a broader exposure to new multidisciplinary ideas.

      The conflict of interest in the membership of the OHS Education Accreditation Board seems to be an issue that keeps being raised but I am not in a position to comment.

  3. Great summary and introduction to the strategic framework drafted by the SIA. I too have encouraged those in my networks to review the proposed document and provide their individual feedback. Initial discussion with some Young Safety Professionals is the absence of a detailed plan for how these goals will be achieved, but this may be captured in a more tactical plan if this is more ‘high level’. I am looking forward to where the SIA is going, and am happy to see the efforts made by the Board and National Office on supporting its members and the wider profession over the last 12-18 months.

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