WorkSafe and the Safety Institute of Australia are at the forefront of pushing for a defined level of competence for the safety professional. WorkSafe identified this need many years ago and has been working on establishing alliances with safety professions since then to achieve its aims.
Significantly similar issues have been discussed in the United Kingdom over a similar period however, in that process the WorkSafe equivalent, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), have chosen not to participate. According to a recent article in HEALTH AND SAFETY AT WORK, the HSE has stated its position
“Speaking at IOSH’s recent conference, HSE chief executive Geoffrey Podger was adamant that the general description of competence in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSW) Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) is sufficient. “I don’t think it helps the whole health and safety system if HSE tries to over-define the area,” he said, adding that there is still a “huge opportunity” for the professional bodies to work on their own definition.”
This position is considerably different from that in Australia where WorkSafe is now closely working (some would say too closely) with the SIA in developing standards and protocols that it and its partners want to operate nationally. Its aim seems to be similar to one the HSE and Health & Safety Commission established in 2007 – “Mapping Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Professional Body Activities in Scotland”. It is worth looking at the page to see the list of safety professional bodies who are listed, the services offered and the membership databases.
A crucial HSE document is the “HSE statement to the external providers of health and safety assistance”. Its statement that competence should be a goal rather than a benchmark should worry the Australian competence lobbyists. In the Ponting article above, IOSH calls for more clarity but, as discussed elsewhere in SafetyAtWorkBlog, OHS legislation clearly states it is the employers’ ultimate responsibility to establish a safe and healthy work environment. They may choose assistance from competent people but why should it be the regulator that establishes this? The professional bodies such as IOSH and SIA have existed for decades. Have they not determined levels of competency for their own members by now?
Geoff Hooke of the British Safety Industry Federation says
“when you ask how you measure competence, the simple answer is: with great difficulty”.
In general, shouldn’t the response from OHS professional associations be along the lines of
“we believe that all members of the XXX Association are competent within their fields and we would not hesitate in recommending our professional members in providing competent advice to companies…”?
These organizations who are calling for a clear definition are often the same organizations that are in support of “as far as is reasonably practicable”, a vague management concept that can be defined and re-defined depending on which judge hears which OHS prosecution. – the antithesis to the prevention principles of OHS. One cannot call for certainty in one area while advocating flexibility in another.
The UK Works and Pensions Committee was right in saying that more control is required on external consultants and clearly lobbed the responsibility on the professional bodies.
Ponting’s article concludes that it is the job of the professional bodies to organize accreditation and the maintenance of that accreditation but acknowledges that it is politically fraught. That is not enough reason to look to the regulator to solve the problem as it only makes the regulator the target of criticism over the process and the results. The professional bodies themselves must work to a commonality of purpose and relinquish years of demarcation and, sometimes, schism.
The Australian safety professions would ultimately gain far more credibility for themselves and their professions if they too took it upon themselves to define accreditation, audit their members’ competencies and assist in the maintenance of skills. In that way Australia may gain a safety profession of which everyone can be proud.