Education for OHS people
A Safety Reflection by the late George Robotham
One of the features that distinguishes adult education from the education of young people is the fact adults have a rich data bank of experience to draw from, they tend to discount any education input that conflicts with this experience.
A major way adults learn is through critical reflection on experience. This can be facilitated through discussion with others and maintenance of a reflective journal. Sometimes it can be as simple as asking “What went well?” and “What opportunities for improvement were presented ?” Reflective journals are becoming more popular as their benefits are realised. The journals can be useful for later reference and the mere act of writing things down can help to clarify thoughts, particularly in times of difficulty and uncertainty.
There are a number of senior, pragmatic and experienced OHS people who question the effectiveness of OHS tertiary education in Australia. I was interviewed for a special on the OHS profession in Australia the Industrial Foundation for Accident Prevention is doing. Below is part of what I had to say-
Core body of OHS knowledge
The author does not generally refer to people who work in OHS as professionals as being a professional implies application of a unique body of knowledge, he does not believe that unique body of knowledge yet exists in occupational safety in Australia (It probably does exist in occupational health) Thorough research needs to be undertaken to define the OHS body of knowledge in Australia.’
It is axiomatic that having a well developed core body of OHS knowledge is fundamental to success in OHS. Knowing what to teach OHS personnel and others is a basic requirement.
Whilst I recognise there were good aspects to the process, good intentions and dedicated personnel I have a high level of concern that the Safety Institute of Australia’s recent project was too limited in scope to provide a real basis for future meaningful OHS education. With due respect to S.I.A. I have to say I understand others may have influenced the scope of the project.
Specific comments on the S.I.A. project
1 Involvement and input of all stakeholders is required. Stakeholders would include State & Federal Government, business, unions, S.I.A. members, OHS people in Australia who are not S.I.A. members, by far the majority, other relevant professional organisations and universities and other OHS education providers. One is left with the impression that with the S.I.A. project universities were the major stakeholders consulted.
2 The body of knowledge must be informed by the permanently life altering personal damage occurrence (“Accident “ ) phenomenon. This appears not to have been done with the S.I.A. project.
3 My tertiary learning in Adult & Workplace Education has a strong emphasis on the importance of learning needs analysis, a learning needs analysis to help define the body of knowledge must be part of the process.
4 An analysis of the skill requirements of an effective OHS practitioner must be part of the process
My belief is that without 1-4 above the process is fundamentally flawed.
The real danger is that the S.I.A. recommendations, with limited consultation and technical flaws, will become the de facto standard and thus misdirected effort.
The way forward
The essence of the way forward lies in OHS education and research
The essence of the way forward in OHS education is in the development of a detailed, accurate body of OHS knowledge
The essence of the way forward in development of a body of OHS knowledge lies in an examination of the class 1 personal damage occurrence phenomenon
I also have a concern universities are focusing only on technical skills, to be effective OHS people need as a minimum communications and interpersonal skills and competency in change management,leadership and learning.