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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters


Umbrella body

The Government intends to facilitate the creation of a new umbrella body to boost OHS capability. JON TEMBY reports on the Australian experience, which started in Victoria in 2007 and this year has gone nationwide.

The Health and Safety Professionals Alliance, or HaSPA, was an alliance of OHS associations and education providers facilitated by WorkSafe Victoria. It was set up in 2007 after WorkSafe research identified opportunities to improve health and safety outcomes in Victorian workplaces. It was the first time in Australia that such an alliance had been formed.

The health and safety professional associations contributing to HaSPA included:

  • • 
    Safety Institute of Australia (SIA);
  • • 
    Australian and New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine (ANZSOM);
  • • 
    Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists (AIOH);
  • • 
    Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (AFOEM);
  • • 
    Human Factors and Ergonomics Society of Australia (HFESA).

The aims of HaSPA were to:

  • • 
    promote OHS as an area of professional practice;
  • • 
    enhance the quality of OHS professionals;
  • • 
    improve OHS service delivery to work-places; and
  • • 
    improve OHS in Victorian workplaces.

Other member organisations included WorkSafe Victoria (chair) and the various universities in Victoria which delivered OHS courses. Invitees and observers to HaSPA included the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU)/Trades Hall Council (Vic), Victorian Congress of Employer Associations (VCEA), Safe Work Australia, and regulators from other Australian states. During the life of the project the NZ Institute of Safety Management and the NZ Department of Labour were also welcomed.

The initial challenges

There were some generic challenges which are no doubt common to any process such as this. They included:

  • • 
    Ensuring that all relevant organisations were included and engaged with the concepts as they were understood at the time;
  • • 
    Identifying appropriate representatives from the bodies involved and maintaining continuity of representation to maximise continuity of thinking and support for the objectives.
  • • 
    Clarifying the expectations of organisational representatives.

It was important to ensure each participating organisation’s perspectives were presented, especially where the influence or profile of one organisation could overwhelm the perspectives of others, or when one personality could exert excessive influence.

All contributing organisations needed to be treated equally. They were kept informed about matters to be discussed and received feedback on discussions held. Public forums to discuss current issues and objectives, as well as regular workshops, ensured broad support, engagement, and minimised misunderstandings.

There was resistance from some quarters within the health and safety community. Rational discussion and the provision of information helped reduce resistance to change, but we had to accept that we couldn’t please everyone all the time.

Ethics and standards

In 2008, HaSPA released a Victorian Code of Ethics and Minimum Service Standards for professional members of OHS associations.

The minimum service standards include the requirement for the professional certification of OHS practitioners who provide independent advice. Criteria for certification includes:

  • • 
    completion of an approved education programme or an alternative means of establishing that the applicant has the required knowledge, skills and competencies;
  • • 
    membership of a professional organisation;
  • • 
    demonstrated practical expertise and continuous professional development;
  • • 
    a minimum period of full-time practice or equivalent.

HasPA contributed to the development of the criteria – available from the WorkSafe Victoria website – for determining whether a person was Competent to Provide OHS Advice to Industry. It is the law in Victoria to employ or engage a suitably qualified person. The “suitably qualified” information can greatly assist in the recruitment of employees as well as in selecting appropriate consultants. Its implementation should provide ongoing improvement to health and safety outcomes.

Body of Knowledge

In July 2009 WorkSafe approved funding for “the development and implementation of the Core Body of Knowledge for the Generalist OHS Professional”. The project was managed by the Safety Institute of Australia. It aimed to facilitate consistency of OHS professional education through development and implementation of a Body of Knowledge (BoK) for generalist OHS professionals, enhance the quality and reputation of OHS professionals, and improve the OHS performance outcomes for organisations.

The BoK project – see ohsbok.org.au – was a major activity overseen by HaSPA. The project continues, with several new chapters currently being developed and others planned. The project had three key deliverables:

  • • 
    To develop a BoK through input from leading OHS academics and professionals;
  • • 
    To set up an accreditation board and process for the review and accreditation of OHS tertiary courses;
  • • 
    To set up a process and board for certification of Generalist OHS professionals.

Accreditation board

The formation of the Australian OHS Education Accreditation Board (OHSEAB) was approved by HaSPA in December 2010 as part of the proposal for Accreditation of OHS Education Programmes for Generalist OHS Professionals. Pam Pryor was appointed as the inaugural registrar in February 2011.

The OHSEAB was established under the by-laws of the Safety Institute of Australia, with clauses to protect the independence of the new board. A key strategy of the project was to bring the universities teaching OHS courses across Australia together, and to focus on the quality of education provided at universities.

Concerns were regularly raised at HaSPA meetings that it was increasingly common for entry-level vocational health and safety Certificate and Diploma courses to be offered over very short timeframes, and serious questions were asked about their effectiveness in delivering acceptable learning outcomes. For example, a Certificate IV course in OHS (national code BSB41407) being offered over five days rather than delivering the breadth and depth available from a course conducted over 36 weeks at 20 hours/week, or over a full year, as occurs in some “acceptable” courses known to members of HaSPA. This concern remains as an opportunity for improvement, as vocational courses are currently outside the boundaries of the project.

The OHS generalist

The generalist health and safety professional is defined as “one who applies a multidisciplinary body of knowledge in a unique way to provide enterprises with advice on the organisational arrangements that will lead to the systemic and systematic management and reduction of fatality, injury, disease and ill-health”.

A project for the certification of generalist OHS professionals is being conducted for HaSPA under the auspices of the SIA College of Fellows. It is currently conducting pilot certification of personnel invited from all of the HaSPA professional bodies. The standards expected of each of the three certification levels have been clarified and are being tested.

The challenge is to ensure that personal qualifications, skills, experience and other variables are fairly and reliably evaluated against the set criteria. A challenge assessment is being developed and tested for use where applicants do not directly meet specified criteria. The certification project also assists alignment of Australian professional certification levels with international health and safety certification standards and should result in increased international recognition.

Going nationwide

HaSPA’s members recognised early that its objectives had clear national and perhaps international significance. In this context, many of its activities, while initially focused on Victoria, progressively included a national perspective. In addition, the OHSEAB has been invited to several international health and safety conferences to present details of the processes and outcomes emerging from the project.

Meetings occurred in 2012 to clarify what a national body might seek to accomplish, how it would operate, and who might be involved. The outcome was ASHPA, the Australian Safety and Health Professional Associations, which had its first meeting in February 2013. The following month HaSPA was disbanded.

ASHPA’s early discussions with Safe Work Australia – the Federal body – have established it as the representative of an expert body of professionals from all over Australia. Safe Work Australia is now sponsoring four new chapters for the Body of Knowledge.

Early ASHPA agenda items have included:

  • • 
    Plans to help implementation of the Safe Work Australia Strategy 2012-22;
  • • 
    Details of existing Technical/Scientific Interest Groups within member organisations;
  • • 
    A list of Standards which require updating in preparation for discussions with Standards Australia;
  • • 
    A possible Australian National Occupational Safety & Health Conference in 2016;
  • • 
    OHS education and a possible forum with educational institutions.

Advice for New Zealand

Based on our experience there are a number of key points to cover in setting up a New Zealand version of a HaSPA. First, ensure all relevant professional and regulatory bodies are included as full voting members. Invite associated bodies such as educational, employer and union bodies as attendees, because their contributions and perspectives are important to achieving practical outcomes.

Second, recognise that most professional bodies are based on volunteer efforts and most self-employed representatives are sacrificing time and income in order to contribute to the desired outcomes, so consider providing coordination and administrative support.

Third, clearly establish NZ-based OHS performance improvement objectives. Review them against the current state of performance and identify any gaps needing to be addressed to achieve an integrated NZ best practice outcome.

Fourth, ensure that a “NZ HaSPA” develops an understanding of what constitutes best practice in other countries (eg USA, Canada, UK, Australia, Singapore, Sweden and/or others) and select those bits that could assist in meeting your objectives.

Fifth, identify the strategies necessary to achieve the desired outcomes. Discuss inclusively and think laterally when challenges emerge – there will probably be other routes to achieve the objective. Celebrate all significant milestones achieved!

Sixth, if courses are to be reviewed and accredited, include the vocational education sector as well as the university sector. The vocational sector is the entry level to the profession: it is important to ensure that vocational as well as graduate/postgraduate qualifications meet minimum standards so that industry can be more confident they will benefit from employing vocationally trained workers.

Seventh, ensure extensive engagement sessions/workshops are conducted to test and build on ideas and strategies. Ensure publicity for new developments and encourage industry support to implement them. Consider presentations at conferences, have workshops available to the public, and create a range of awards or other acknowledgements to assist engagement with the desired change.

Finally, ensure that the vision is based around all workers returning home safe every day.

Ask the brains trust

We asked a selection of people who offer OHS qualifications or who are leading OHS professional bodies to respond briefly to the following standard set of questions.

  • • 
    Is a HaSPA an idea whose time has come in NZ? If so, why? If not, why not?
  • • 
    In defining a set of OHS “key competencies”, is there any reason why NZ should reinvent the wheel rather than just borrowing from competency lists and descriptors developed overseas?
  • • 
    What impact would agreement on key competencies have on how OHS professional courses are taught?
  • • 
    If the HaSPA eventually moves to professional registration or accreditation, who should be the gatekeeper, and why?
  • • 
    The Taskforce says the OHS market in NZ won’t be sufficiently mature in quantity or quality to warrant professional registration until 2018. Any comment?

Their edited responses follow on the next pages.

The teachers

Mike Cosman

First of all I have to declare my interest as a member of the Taskforce and with Impac having brought the NEBOSH and IOSH qualifications to New Zealand in order to help improve access to internationally recognised standards. Membership of IOSH, NZISM and NZSC (honorary) means I have a foot in many camps and can see the strengths and challenges for each of them.

The time has certainly come to set some pegs in the ground about competencies for those whose primary role is in the OHS field. If the messenger is not capable, how can we expect the message to be heard, understood and acted upon as intended? This applies to inspectors as well as internal and external advisors of all kinds. And let’s not forget that our colleagues in the medical and nursing field, as well as engineers and other professions, are already there – and perhaps wonder why many of those in core OHS roles have not made the same investment in their own professional development.

The principles of good OHS management are international so we should not reinvent the wheel around core competencies, but we might need to adjust the tyre pressures a bit to fit our environment. We also need transferrable competencies so people can move in and out of NZ and not have to jump through too many hoops to be accepted.

I’m not sure agreement on competencies will change how professional courses are taught but it will impact on what is covered and the robustness of the assessment and moderation methods. Not surprisingly I would like to see all qualification providers accredited and have to meet common quality standards.

Statutory regulation would require a registration board which was independent from providers and professional bodies. The initiative to set one up would have to come from WorkSafe NZ and MBIE to set the legislative wheels in motion. I think we are a long way away from registration – this is a decade-long process as we said in the Taskforce report, based on the experience of other groups such as social workers. You need a critical mass of the industry to already be within a professional standards framework and have the infrastructure in place before you can start to make it compulsory – and there would need to be recognition of current competence, as I don’t think anyone is suggesting formal qualifications are the only way to go.

Also, it’s important that the standard-setting bodies are fully aligned with the registration board. We don’t want a repeat of the situation in areas like plumbing where polytechs have been turning out candidates with qualifications but who don’t meet the registration board’s requirements.

HaSPA is an important first step but as the Taskforce noted, we need an overarching workforce development strategy (like Health Workforce NZ) to ensure we all have the skills we need to keep people safe.

MIKE COSMAN is managing director of Impac Services.

John Wallaart

Some form of certification or professional recognition is needed. Part of the challenge is that different organisations have different criteria as to what is acceptable and others already have formal recognition of qualifications that are essentially set overseas. In many countries, liability issues are decided in court and so the experience and qualifications of expert advice is important. In the USA, qualifications such as Certified Safety Professional or Certified Occupational Hygienist have significant implications.

Every profession has a set of core competencies and ethics which are widely publicised. There are key competencies set by Australian authorities, and there are advantages in an internationally agreed set of criteria, particularly as New Zealand intends to follow the Australian legislation. There may be disadvantages as New Zealand schemes may not be relevant in Australia (such as the current WSMP or Partnership programmes).

Agreement on key competencies would inevitably result in a streamlining of teaching on the agreed topics. This can be both negative and positive. While it will be important to address the key issues in OHS, it can result in a lack of focus on other important issues. The focus of attention will inevitably be on those issues that receive attention from regulators or, in the case of larger companies, on the issues that receive international attention. This can result in a lack of knowledge in other important areas such as occupational hygiene.

If the HaSPA moves towards professional registration, the gatekeepers will need to be independent, experienced in working with industry in New Zealand, and possess extensive theoretical and practical understanding of a wide range of occupational health topics. Industry experience is essential to have insight into the barriers and enablers for duty holders and have the ability to influence key and sometime large international stakeholders.

The Taskforce suggestion about the OHS practitioner market may be reasonable. However, MBIE has been charged with supporting professional bodies to establish HaSPA by June 2014. There has been much debate about minimum standards and whether the current education courses are appropriate. It will take some time to gain resolution on this issue with the new regulatory framework, and accountabilities including standards that are not yet established. These will significantly influence any courses being taught.

Dr JOHN WALLAART is a programme manager with ACC who developed and facilitates the health and safety diploma offered by the Southern Institute of Technology. His views are his own.

Ian Laird, Kirsten Olsen and Stephen Legg

The concept of a HaSPA is timely if somewhat overdue. The Australian HaSPA – now ASHPA – is an alliance of OHS professional bodies and universities providing OHS professional education. Its aims are to improve OHS in workplaces through enhanced quality of OHS professionals, improved OHS service delivery to workplaces, and promotion of OHS as an area of professional practice.

It appears from the Working Safer document that the universities are not specifically included in the planned NZ Alliance. If a key component of the Alliance is to address knowledge, competencies, skills, education and learning of OHS professionals, then it would seem appropriate that universities are represented.

Any OHS competency lists developed overseas should be assessed within the NZ context. It is likely that much of this will relate to universal OHS strategies and fundamental principles which are unlikely to need refining. However, a fundamental core of our society is the Treaty of Waitangi; how we teach, research and work is directly impacted by the principles of the Treaty. There are unique components of New Zealand society that would influence the application and implementation of “overseas” competency frameworks. The key issue is not content, it’s the application.

If agreement was reached on the key OHS competencies, then it would likely require tertiary education providers to review their educational programmes in line with the competencies identified. This would not be a major issue for university-based OHS courses, where curriculum and delivery reviews are untaken quite frequently and systematically. It could be an issue for other programmes that do not comply with peer review and quality assurance systems that universities have in place.

We believe the gatekeeper for OHS professional registration should be under the auspices of Worksafe NZ in the first instance, to monitor the development of the OHS Body of Knowledge and accreditation of tertiary OHS education programmes. The registration role could then be transferred to an independent NZ OHS Practitioner Registration Board, established under the new Health and Safety at Work Act.

Another point to consider is how registration and accreditation is dealt with in NZ for some of the other professional groups such as ergonomists, occupational hygienists or occupational health nurses, some of which already have certification schemes in place.

We believe a number of currently practising OHS practitioners would have the ability to present a portfolio of qualifications and work experience that would meet the professional registration requirements. We should not wait until 2018. The process of developing a professional scheme should start now.

IAN LAIRD and KIRSTEN OLSEN are, respectively, associate professor and senior lecturer in OSH at Massey University, while STEPHEN LEGG is professor of ergonomics.

David McBride

The idea of a body to establish standards and competencies is long overdue. Health providers have long been accountable for maintaining their professional standards. Health and safety professionals should be no different. It is a critical area of practice. Such an agency should also be powerful in acting as a “critic and conscience” of the regulator. A “why not” argument would have to be convincing. Personally, I can’t think of one.

Competency lists and descriptors developed elsewhere are important. I would think there might be a robust discussion in this area. That won’t do any harm at all. Agreement on competencies will, in the first instance, inform the syllabus for training. The educators can then get on with the curriculum and we will all enter the race.

Regarding professional registration or accreditation, the best way would be to constitute a New Zealand Health and Safety Practice Board which defines policies and sets standards around occupational health and safety performance. As for the Taskforce’s estimation that the OHS market won’t be sufficiently mature in quantity or quality to warrant professional registration until 2018 – they are probably right about the maturity. We – and I include myself here – have not been doing a very good job up to now. However I can’t see why we should not have registration sooner.

DAVID MCBRIDE is associate professor in occupational health at the University of Otago.

The leaders

Terry Buckingham

NZOHNA supports the creation of a HaSPA-type alliance and accreditation of H&S professionals. As nurses we are subject to comprehensive regulation and competency assurance through the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act, and we can see the benefits of this type of accreditation for H&S professionals in general. Our interest is in ensuring the process is transparent, robust and wit h good governance to ensure a fair and practical HaSPA. We strongly believe that any accredited H&S professional must also belong to a professional organisation which supports competency, such as NZOHNA.

The key will be to develop a set of competencies that is wide enough to ensure all types of H&S professionals can be included. Any competency framework needs to have the flexibility to enable accreditation rather than acting as a gatekeeper to deter. Anyone gaining accreditation should work within their own scope of practice, and that’s where a well thought out competency framework can play a key role in developing the capability and capacity of our H&S workforce.

So long as the competency framework is developed with input from education providers there is no reason why there should be a negative impact on any OHS professional courses. We come from all different backgrounds and areas of expertise. Let’s not try to dictate which courses are “accredited”, let’s work with educators to respond to the changing needs of the H&S workforce and encourage the diversity of programmes.

We see the government as regulator taking the lead in the early to medium term stages of any HaSPA to enable setup and to develop the governance structure required to allow representation of all H&S professionals. With good government support – appropriate resourcing and committed spending – HaSPA should then be able to be led by an elected chairperson and an agreed robust structure.

Professional registration might be something that naturally leads on from accreditation. However we think there is a well qualified and experienced H&S workforce in NZ now – it just hasn’t had good support, been well resourced or had clear career pathways. A recent survey of our members highlighted that half of our members hold post graduate qualifications, many at Masters level. Many of our members also hold other qualifications and skills. Occupational health nurses are one of the many H&S professionals who can be relied on for competent advice and support.

TERRY BUCKINGHAM is president of the NZ Occupational Health Nurses’ Association.

Tony Rigg

NZISM fully supports the concept of a HaSPA but we are uncertain if it will work. Will generalist OHS practitioners engage with a voluntary process? Will industry require demonstration of competence from generalist OHS practitioners (to drive generalists to be accredited through the professional body)? Will the HaSPA achieve an increase in practitioner capability? We certainly hope so.

The HaSPA in Victoria has developed a core body of knowledge for generalist practitioners (as distinct from specialists like hygienists or nurses). This has been used by the tertiary education providers to inform the development of their courses. These courses are then used by the Safety Institute of Australia and integrated into its professional accreditation pathway.

Globally, INSHPO is developing internationally accepted guidance material for those working in the area of generalist OHS management, using the Victorian HaSPA body of knowledge along with work being undertaken across Europe.

If the proposed HaSPA were to adopt the INSHPO/Aussie body of knowledge, and if our training establishments used this to develop courses, then NZISM’s accreditation pathway would recognise these qualifications at the relevant membership grade. We would also use the body of knowledge to inform development opportunities for our members. We also have a code of ethics and require experience and professional development, just like Australia. In fact the NZISM graduate level and the SIA graduate level are very similar.

The SIA also runs the searchable register of “competent practitioners”. In the UK the OSHCR register is not run by the professional body, but it does require people who register to be a member of the relevant professional body at the relevant grade before they can register. OSHCR accepts registration by all the allied H&S professionals (so long as they are accredited through the relevant professional body at the agreed grade). This makes it transparent and easy for business to find competent advice.

In New Zealand, a Government-funded independent registration board would be made up of representatives from NZISM, NZSC, NZOHNA, the NZ Occupational Hygiene Society, and other practitioner groups with an interest in OHS. WorkSafe New Zealand would also be represented. People applying to this board for registration would first need to be a member of one of these professional bodies.

If we target getting HaSPA set up by mid-2014, get the development requirements and other operational systems sorted, then we would want to have compulsory registration in place by 2016. There needs to be some urgency in this because of the imminent changes in legislation.

TONY RIGG is national manager of the NZ Institute of Safety Management.

Andy Loader

The government is promoting a range of changes to OHS legislation but there is no provision for education. Businesses are still expected to either know what is required or to get professional advice as to their legal responsibilities, in line with the current requirements under the HSE Act.

The proposal for a HaSPA will provide the ability to put in place minimum standards of competency for H&S advisors so that businesses can have some certainty that the advisor they have employed is competent to give them advice in relation to their legal responsibilities, as opposed to the current position where there is no minimum standard and the risk of receiving sub-standard advice is great.

There is no reason why we can’t borrow competency lists and descriptors from overseas as long as they are suitable for our conditions and fit within our legislative requirements.

There would be two main impacts on how courses are taught. First, the content of all courses would have to meet the minimum standard for the competencies. Second, there would need to be some type of moderation of teaching courses to ensure that the minimum standards are maintained.

The overall responsibility for registration should be with Worksafe NZ for legislative implementation with the professional bodies, through HaSPA, setting the standards for competency. This structure is needed to ensure the minimum standards set are a measure of true competency and not just a measure of academic knowledge.

NZSC has had a voluntary registration system in place for the past eleven years that has measured OSH professionals against a list of ten core competencies. To say that we can’t embrace professional registration till 2018 because the NZ market won’t be sufficiently mature in quantity or quality till then is nonsense. Surely the aim is to improve the level of professionalism in the OSH industry to reduce the number of workplace injuries and fatalities; if the industry is not currently mature enough to do this then it is all the more reason to enforce change sooner rather than later.

The reason that the OSH industry is not mature in quantity or quality is directly related to the lack of compulsory minimum standards. The sooner we demand a compulsory registration system, against a list of core competencies, the better.

ANDY LOADER is CEO of the New Zealand Safety Council.

Greg Dearsly

OHSIG agrees that the competency of health and safety practitioners is paramount. Business must have confidence that practitioners have been through a prescribed process and that their competencies have been suitably assessed. The HaSPA model would enable this through an agreed set of competencies and the use of a registration process.

The body of knowledge that already exists from the Australian HaSPA process should be able to be picked up by New Zealand. This guidance material must be a living suite of information which can be periodically added to or edited as new information, technology and systems are developed.

INSHPO – the International Network of Safety & Health Practitioner Organisations – is in the process of developing internationally accepted guidance material for those working in the area of generalist health and safety management. Bringing this together with a HaSPA will consolidate the generalist health and safety industry into one of professionalism, with competent, qualified and experienced practitioners.

The implementation of a HaSPA and any “body of knowledge” must enable the industry to prescribe the content of occupational health and safety training material. There needs to be agreement on what academics think should be taught versus what is actually done out in the field.

Business must be able to see that training providers not only deliver a prescribed course but that the course infrastructure also exists in respect of moderation and quality control. This should be independently monitored in the same or similar way that NZQA course material is monitored.

OHSIG is the body that currently represents the views of the majority of groups involved in workplace health and safety. It may be that a sub-committee of OHSIG could be the gatekeeper, however additional stakeholders would need to be bought into the process, mainly from the academic sector.

Working Safer proposes to have a HaSPA set up by June 2014. If that occurs, then that group will need to develop terms of reference, budgetary requirements and other operational systems. From there the process of setting up the academic and accreditation boards would begin and could take 6 – 12 months. By the time the first set of applicants is received that could conceivably be 2016, so maybe 2018 is a little far away.

GREG DEARSLY is chair of the Occupational Health and Safety Industry Group (OHSIG).

Melbourne-based JON TEMBY, CFSIA, is managing director of Asia-Pacific OHS consultancy Jon Temby and Associates Pty Ltd, now trading as AXENTO. He is the Safety Institute of Australia’s representative on ASHPA and its predecessor HaSPA.

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