OHS training in strife again

Many Australians expressed concerns over the potential workplace health and safety impacts of various free trade agreements Australia has entered into over the last few years. Those concerns may be starting to manifest if a report in The Age newspaper on 4 June 2016 is correct.

According to the article titled “Dodgy safety certificates under China Australia Free Trade Agreement“, the mandatory Construction Induction course provided in English was apparently completed on-line and successfully by several workers who only speak Chinese.  The provider of the on-line course, Dominic Ogburn of ABE Education, stated that

“It’s not the correct interpretation. It’s not what I was trying to convey.”

It must be emphasised that the accusations made in The Age article are from unnamed sources which weakens the strength of the claims.

The Australian Labor Party’s Senator Penny Wong released a media statement on 4 June 2016 (not yet available online) reiterating many of the claims made in The Age article without adding much substance but she did state that

“It is also deeply concerning that workplace occupational health and safety obligations are reportedly being ignored. Workplace safety is a top priority of Labor and if safety on worksites is being compromised then Mr Turnbull must immediately consider options to ensure that it is not.”

Safety Inductions

According to the ABE Student Handbook, the company’s aim is to

“To provide expert advice and first class customer service to clients as they set out to obtain the skills and knowledge required to complete a successful building project.”

Passing a course that, from other training providers, takes a full day’s classroom training in two to three hours on-line is a curious strategy.

The Australian Government’s website of national training competencies provides a comprehensive list of the knowledge that is required to pass Unit CPCCOHS1001A that is the “white card” course provided by ABE Training.  The course outline lists the following required skills of participants:

“Communication skills to:

  • clarify OHS legislative requirements
  • verbally report construction hazards and risks
  • ask effective questions
  • relay information to others
  • discuss OHS issues and information

comprehension skills to:

  • explain the basic OHS legislative requirements which will be  applicable to own work
  • explain the meaning of safety signs and symbols
  • identify common construction hazards
  • discuss the basic principles of risk management.”

There is an extensive list of required knowledge also but a major weakness in this course may be that only one type of assessment method is required.  A combination of examination methods would likely provide a better level of competence.

On-line Training

There has been long-standing debate in the Australian occupational health and safety (OHS) sector about the integrity of on-line training, particularly as the knowledge gained is vital to satisfying the legislative obligations for, particularly, an employee’s obligations to work safely and without risk to others.

The inclusion of a discussion on wage rates and jobs adds to the political topicality of the article as Australia is in the middle of a federal election campaign.  However the issue of OHS training and the veracity of various certificates of competency has been a sleeping issue in the OHS sector and with safety regulators for some time.

The issue of on-line training, although not related to construction safety training, appeared in the recent Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption over the completion of on-line right-of-entry tests by people other than the intended entry holders (Interim Report Volume 2, page 1571 onwards).

Any unsupervised safety training has the potential to be rorted.  Providing training courses on-line makes this possibility more likely and contribute to the employer’s burden of having to verify the competencies.  This double-handling would not be accepted in production processes but is widely accepted as an unavoidable business cost because employers feel as if they have no influence over the external training providers.  The verification of competencies is a poor excuse for accepting substandard training qualifications.

The vocational and education training sector that largely provides safety training is getting good support from political parties who are stressing the need for an educated and skilled trade workforce. But for the sector to thrive, it needs policing by a suitably-resourced regulatory body.  It also needs employers to be more picky on the types of certificates that they determine acceptable.  Many companies have prerequisites for suppliers and some of these prerequisites include suitably trained personnel.  Employers need to better enforce these contractual standards.

If, as seems inevitable, Australia will be increasing its overseas labour supply, the enforcement of OHS standards in this labour sector will become even more important.  A free trade agreement should not mean that Australia is obliged to accept substandard products and services, particularly as these increase the risks to workers and the community.

Kevin Jones

Categories business, construction, education, government, industrial relations, law, OHS, politics, red tape, risk, safety, standards, training

7 thoughts on “OHS training in strife again”

  1. Yes ID verification is 1o1, but there have been a number of high profile cases where this step has not been followed and the person with the credential did not have the competency.

    Just the same as doing group assessments or open class answers or allowing plagiarism, and the using the assessment as the basis for assessing everyone as competent.

  2. Thanks Kevin

    WHS reform was to competently prepared people to receive on-site construction industry inductions. In other words for people to be aligned to “Safety Culture”.

    A decision was made to use VET sector training framework as a proxy.
    There are a number of issues for assessment of competency and verification of student for Safety Culture in an English speaking workplace. I agree with you that a “combination of examination methods would likely provide a better level of competence”.

    The mode of training is neutral, the nature and extent of the assessment and verification process is crucial. While this will be more intensive and extensive, it needs to occur to reflect the higher claim of Construction Industry WHS requirements over VET learning.

    The additional area of converting “whitecard graduates” to “trained and Safety Culture people” is a role of the site or the “point of difference” for a labour hire provider. Ensuring people remain safety conscious is the PCBU and Site Management’s obligation.

    There are numerous examples of failings in online and face to face systems in delivering safety. Even Heavy Vehicle driver licences have been issued without driving competency assessments. Unfortunately there has been very little published to eliminate subversive strategies in face to face or online assessments.

    The quoted example of providing answers to multiple choice questions, occurs in online and face to face environments, supported by VET learner philosophies. Answers are given to the student in may ways; written on a whiteboard, subject to discussion and guidance, communicated verbally, answered by others or phrased in way that the answer is obvious. The result is the same, the competency of the person has not been properly assessed.

    The issue with assessments has not been led by ASQA, was compromised by CPSISC and the possible solution ended when the relevant program was defunded.

    There is still no leadership from the Commonwealth on this issue, although it is a bridge that will have to be crossed. As technology increases its penetration across industries and consumers, the lack of an enabling Commonwealth standard is disconcerting.

    Not everyone will be able to achieve the expected performance and understanding of safety. Critically, allowing someone on site who does not “get safety”, compromises the site safety system placing everyone at risk. A simple comparison of indicators would provide some insight into the true state of play.

    For example entities with no drop outs and/or pass rates greater than 98% should be a flag to ASQA of potentially compromised assessment (online and face to face) and also a flag to the State WHS Regulators that the contract and industry objectives are not being met.

  3. Good piece Kevin. Everyone knows the white card is meaningless yet like many safety distortions, we hang on to them and normalise them. Similiarly, we have known for years the ineffectiveness on online trsining and inductions.

  4. Each state and Territory safety regulator has a role to play as well.
    Inspectors have the inquisitorial power in the workplace to make these types of enquiries.
    Maybe an Australia wide campaign might be in order.

  5. Verification of a F2F attendee? Surely this is no more difficult than the training organisation, and trainer verifying the bona-fide identification of said attendee. For instance, if I participate and ‘prove’ that I am who I say I am by showing my driver’s licence – which the trainer then acknowledges is, indeed, my licence – what additional measures need be taken? After all, if showing my licence is considered acceptable when I’m pulled over by my friendly local traffic Bobby (that proves to said Bobby that it is, indeed, me behind the steering wheel), surely it’s good enough for a training experience. Doing this appears to be little more than an ‘Administration 101’ level of task… or have I missed something obvious?

  6. I’ve also been in some recent discussions about verifying face-to-face course attendees.

    If I run a public course and Kevin Jones turns up, how do I know it’s him? How do I know Kevin attended and was assessed?

    1. The issue of verification of identity in physical training course came up in a Victorian infrastructure project I was involved with. An effective training register goes some way to reducing identity fraud but the register must have the capacity to include photographs and images. The information should also be readily accessible by training providers so that fraud and deceit is picked up at the earliest opportunity.

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