OHS – The Hidden Profession

Australian research usually makes use of the industrial and activity categories created by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).  This creates a problem for research into the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession because there is no specific category for the OHS professional.  Perhaps even more importantly, it creates problems for readers of these research reports because we risk imposing an interpretation on the data that is false.  SafetyAtWorkBlog sought clarification from the ABS.

The ABS has a category that seems to fit the activities of the OHS professional – Division O: Public Administration and Safety.  According to the ABS definitions, Division O:

“….includes units mainly engaged in Central, State or Local Government legislative, executive and judicial activities; in providing physical, social, economic and general public safety and security services; and in enforcing regulations. Also included are units of military defence, government representation and international government organisations.”

There is more explanation at the definitions site but the OHS profession doesn’t seem to fit, so SafetyAtWorkBlog asked the ABS for clarification and this is where it gets depressing.  Based on an interpretation of 1292.0 – Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC), 2006 (Revision 2.0), OHS operates across many industries and may involve:

Consulting/advice – potentially setting up business policy and practices etc.

An Occupational Health and Safety consultant who operates independently of a larger organisation or is not part of a government department would be classified as Division M Professional, Scientific and Technical Services – Class 6962 Management Advice and Related Consulting Services, if their main activity is a consulting or management advisory service.

Government policy and Legislation
Government Policy and Legislation creation belongs with the relative level of government in Division O Public Administration and Safety – Subdivision 75 Public Administration.

Regulation (based on Act of Parliament) belongs in Division O Public Administration and Safety – Class 7720 Regulatory Services.

It was noted that

Most industries would employ some form of OH&S expert but the business’s predominant activity would determine the ANZSIC class it belongs, eg Government departments have OH&S officers but they are classified to  Division O Public Administration and Safety – Subdivision 75 Public Administration.  Mines have OH&S officers but are still classified to Div B Mining.

Recently some Australian OHS professionals and organisations have been estimating that Australia has around 30,000 safety professionals. Thirty thousand OHS professionals is a sizeable amount and the level of influence on government policy from a profession of that size would be substantial, if they could be mobilised or at least a half to two-thirds were represented by a single professional body or a couple of coordinated organisations.  This potential is likely to remain a fantasy for a long time unless Australia has a major incident, issue or scandal that requires OHS professionals.

More likely is for as many of that 30,000 to be united in a cause rather than through an organisation.  This would make the categorisation issue largely irrelevant as those who consider themselves an OHS professional join the cause rather than take out a membership or try to meet a specific level of certification.  In this way the ABS category structure can remain unchanged.

Individual OHS professionals could continue to influence their clients and employers to improve workplace health and safety.  This gentle revolution seems to fit the organisational culture advocacy from the OHS profession which recognises that some industries will only improve through generational change.  It also allows for individuals to establish a network of professional development and skills enhancement independent of the established institutions.  This may be time-consuming but is likely to be equal to, or less than, the hours required to complete a tertiary OHS qualification – a qualification that is academically sound but incompatible with the real world demands on the OHS professional.

The absence of a specific category for the OHS professional could be a blessing.  It accepts that the OHS profession has a diverse application and perhaps OHS professionals should exploit this as an opportunity.  Perhaps it is better for OHS to have no King, Queen or “Face” but instead to have lots of faceless people who achieve real OHS change instead of just talking about it.

Kevin Jones

Categories evidence, OHS, Professional standards, professionalism, research, safety, statistics, Uncategorized

One thought on “OHS – The Hidden Profession”

  1. Kevin, this is a timely analysis. I particularly like the notion that H&S people – however they define themselves – could be united by a cause, more so than by membership of any particular body or completion of any particular qualification. It allows for the inherently inclusive nature of H&S at its best, in which nobody with a genuine interest should ever feel excluded.
    As it happens, in New Zealand the HASANZ Register is due to go fully public at the end of July. This is a register of H&S people who have been accredited by their particular professional body. It’s a great idea and I hope it achieves the aims it has set itself. My worry is that it should have been done 20 years ago, and that given how H&S roles are evolving, it might be the perfect answer to a question which is not as relevant as it was.
    I have posed this question to Safeguard readers, but if anyone here wishes to comment they can do so here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/YGK2VHP

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