Safety Qualifications

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Each year Australian recruiting company SafeSearch releases a remuneration survey.  This year the report was released in late-February 2009.

A media release from SafeSearch reports that

“Almost all HSE Managers hold formal safety qualifications with 90% reaching Diploma level or higher.”

In Victoria, in particular, there is a strong professional community generated from the Victorian Institute of Occupational Safety & Health, located at the University of Ballarat.  The OHS studies at VIOSH have always been the course of choice because it is one of the oldest of the OHS courses and it was given a high profile by the lecturer also being on the national OHS body, Professor Dennis Else.

The standing of VIOSH graduates is high but it seems that part of the reason is that the students have always been drawn from the already-employed.  The course has also required a four-week residency that may generate considerable focus on OHS and has the benefit of established a camaraderie reminiscent of boarding school.  Many students seem to be drawn from those corporations or government departments that allow for study leave.

The SafeSearch report says the trend to degree-qualified safety professionals is only a recent phenomenon.  The Director of SafeSearch, Julie Honore said

“While we have always seen a strong requirement for Environmental professionals to be degree qualified the trend for safety professionals has only been evolving and becoming stronger more recently.  

Whereas once our clients were prepared to consider unqualified people, that is no longer the case. We are seeing a trend of experienced Managers enrolling to take on more studies to ensure they are competitive in the market.”

Honore also warns about students implying a greater level of knowledge than reality

“We have had numerous instances where candidates have included qualifications on their resumes but once these are checked out further, you often find that they have only recently commenced studying towards a qualification as they have recognised the need for formal qualifications to assist in making them marketable. There is nothing wrong with this, but it is important that this is correctly stated on the resume”.

From the recruiter’s perspective, verification of qualifications is very important but, more broadly, it is important to look at the quality of the course in order to gauge the quality of the qualification.  Is one diploma of OHS the same as another? – No.  Is the quality of instruction the same across tertiary institutions? – No.  But is this important?  Perhaps we should be assessing the person and not the paper.

But how do we do that with a new recruit?  Wouldn’t it be helpful to have an external assessment of safety management skills? Perhaps, a registration system?  But many of those stem from a base qualification of a university degree.

Safety qualifications and competencies is a difficult area to understand and most of the people investigating the issue are from academia and so have a vested interest in the research.

The Safety Profession is at risk of limiting its selection criteria too narrowly and developing irrelevance.  It is similar to the operation of political parties where candidates for election on the conservative side come mostly from law practices and employer associations and those on the left of politics come from law practices and trade unions.  The  politicians may still be able to represent their constituents but they do not reflect the electorate and, it could be argued, represent narrow desires of the electorate.

The Safety Profession needs to draw from a much broader pool of skills, understanding and experience if it is to continue to develop and improve.  It should not only draw upon those who can afford a tertiary qualification or who is supported by their employers financially or through study leave.

Even if the bulk of the profession is tertiary qualified it must actively seek those from outside the established structures.  Any profession that does not recruit widely and wisely runs the risk of becoming too “chummy”, elitist and, eventually, irrelevant.

Kevin Jones

Note: the author is one unit shy of a Graduate Diploma in Risk Management (OHS) from Swinburne University

Safety Interviews

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A couple of weeks ago I conducted interviews with several speakers in the Safety In Action Conference to be held in Melbourne, Australia at the end of March 2009.  The finalised videos are below.

Helen Marshall is Australia’s Federal Safety Commissioner who has a challenging job monitoring major government construction sites.

Dr Martyn Newman is a a fascinating speaker on the issues of leadership and emotional intelligence and how safety professionals can benefit for applying these concepts to their corporate aims.

Jill McCabe is a recent member of WorkSafe Victoria who provides quite startling survey information on the attitudes of supervisors to workplace safety.

Barry Sherriff is a partner with law firm Freehills and was recently also one of the review panellists into Australia’s OHS law review.  Since this video, the final report of the panel has been publicly released and Barry will be discussing harmonisation at the Safety In Action conference.

John Merritt is the Executive Director of WorkSafe and a strong advocate of workplace safety.  

Although part of my job is to help promote the Safety In Action conference, I have tried to provide a resource that will not be temporary and is actually useful to safety professionals everywhere.

Tip: Use the high quality YouTube settings if you can.  It makes these much easier to view but does not improve the appearance of the interviewer.

Kevin Jones


First Aid and Burns

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The correct and established treatment for burns is

“.. to hold the burn under cool running water for at least 20 minutes”.

This reduces the continuing damage generated by burning tissue.  

This has been the advice for decades and was recently reemphasised by the Victorian Government.  So why are burn creams still on the market?  

Perhaps there is a place  for burn creams – when 20 minutes’ supply of cool running water is not available.

In December 2008, the Australian Defence Forces used burn cream.  According to a media release

The ADF has been advised that four Iraqi civilian vehicles were damaged and two Iraqi men received superficial burns to their hands when they reportedly attempted to remove hot debris from their cars.

The Iraqi men were treated at the scene by Coalition Forces with burn cream.

Child Safety Australia recommends burn cream in a domestic first aid kit for the treatment of blisters.

The Australian Red Cross are emphatic, but allow room to move:

“NEVER use burn cream as an initial treatment.  This should only be used a doctor’s recommendation.”

In 2003 (reference not publicly available), the Mayo Clinic in Rochester advised the following first aid treatments for burns

  • With chemical burns, make sure the chemical and any clothing or jewelry in contact with the chemical are removed.
  • Cool the burn under running water long enough to reduce the pain, usually 15 to 20 minutes. If this isn’t possible, immerse the burn in cold water or cover with cold compresses. Don’t put ice directly on the burn. Ice can cause frostbite and further damage.
  • Once the burn is cooled, apply a lotion or moisturizer to soothe the area and prevent dryness. Don’t apply butter. It holds heat in the tissues and may cause more damage.
  • Cover the burn with a sterile gauze bandage. Wrap loosely. Bandaging keeps air off the burn and reduces the pain.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain medication unless your doctor has told you to avoid these medications.
  • Don’t break blisters. If the blister is broken, wash with antibacterial soap and water, apply an antibiotic ointment and bandage.

No mention of burn cream and only an antibiotic cream in relation to blisters.

Safety professionals seek evidence, from which solid and valid decisions can be made.  Why then does the initial treatment of burns have such a variety of advice? Can we simply put it down to the commercial desires of cream manufacturers? Or the  lack of  explanation from the defence forces?

I am old enough to have experienced my mother applying butter to my burns.  We have had generational change in this treatment but how much more change would have occurred if workplace first aiders, and parents, had not had burn creams advocated as a legitimate first aid treatment?

Kevin Jones

Teenage worker’s death

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AAP and The Australian newspaper today reported on the death of an 18-year-old in a factory located  just north of SafetyAtWorkBlog’s office on 18 February 2009.

Initial reports say that the man was “dragged head first into a box-printing machine” when his clothing was caught.  Firefighters took 45 minutes to extract the worker who died later in hospital.

It will be interesting to follow this case as the investigation and potential prosecution proceeds.  It fits all the elements of safety campaigns over the last few years – young workers, inadequately guarded machines, risk assessments, risk controls, unnecessary deaths.

It is only a couple of months until International Workers’ Memorial Day when this worker’s name will be added to the annual roll-call of the dead.

Kevin Jones

Lessons from a draft medical code of conduct

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The safety industry in Australia may be seeking to become a recognised profession but, as with most business processes, continuous improvement is an important element of remaining current.

The Australian Medical Council has released a revised draft code of conduct with which several members of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) disagree.

According to an AMA media release,  Professor Paul Komesaroff, Director of Monash University’s Centre for Ethics in Medicine and Society, and Associate Professor Ian Kerridge, Director of Sydney University’s Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in medicine, believe the draft Code

“was likely to be counterproductive for four main reasons:

  • it was very unclear how standards could be enforced; 
  • the Code was based on a single concept of ethics, lacking a sufficient appreciation of our multicultural diversity; 
  • it contributed to an insidious, creeping authoritarianism; and, lastly, 
  • the code would suggest that good practice involved following the same rules in all circumstances rather than responding to individual circumstances and needs.”

The professors said

“Codes of conduct can either expand the ability of individuals to make their own decisions and maximise their opportunities for ethical action, or they can claim authority beyond their capacity and encourage the belief that good practice simply involves following a formula and applying the rules.”

The medical code of conduct is only a draft so there should be robust debate.To do so publicly may appear unseemly to some but ultimately, when issues are resolved, the public (the clients) can bear witness to the exhaustive and open process organisations have used to establish professional standards.  

The lesson for embryonic professions like safety is to follow the advice I provdie consultants of any profession – look outside your comfort zone to better understand what you do.

The quote above suggests that a registered profession does not need to be regimented and controlling.  To be described as professional is a compliment, but the risk is that “professional” can come to mean blinkered and, ultimately, fearful.  A profession risks becoming infected by “an insidious, creeping authoritarianism”.

Many in the safety profession are promoting “leadership”, “innovation”, “resilience”.  Perhaps we should be promoting an inclusive terminology that has an established and, usually, reputable history, like medicine.  Safety “profession” can include all of the modern business jingo in a proven framework rather than confusing ourselves, our clients and our regulators, with “Newspeak“.

Now that would be doubleplusgood.

Kevin Jones