Background Following the development and implementation of professional qualifications standards, higher education standards have followed recently. In Australia, the national qualification standard (Australian Qualification Framework – AQF) has found a sibling in the SIA-proposed OHS (Occupational Health & Safety) generalist, OHS professional and tertiary OHS education accreditation programs, which are commercially promoted through the Australian OHS Education Accreditation Board (AOHSEAB), an organisation ‘auspiced’ through the SIA (Safety Institute of Australia Ltd). While selling a basically commercial product in the first instance, the AOHSEAB claims that the implementation of accreditation of OHS professional education has positively affected the educational quality and professional outcomes of OHS education in Australia since 2012 (Pryor, 2015). Other claims by the Australian OHS education accreditation board were recently critically appraised by Paul & Pearse (2015); such as the quality of the Health and Safety Professionals Alliance’s (HaSPA) Body of Knowledge (BoK), which forms the basis for the accreditation process; or the quality of the professional project proposed by SIA (Pearse et al., 2015). HaSPA is another organisation associated with SIA.
Methods Recent published literature, articles in the SafetyAtWorkBlog, Safe Work Australia publications, and university OHS program information was searched, reviewed and analysed to determine changes in OHS education and the OHS profession from 2013 to 2015 in Australia, and whether these changes could be attributed to the professional accreditation program marketed through the AOHSEAB.
Results From information that is publicly available, it could not be determined that activities of the AOHSEAB had any impact on the quality of tertiary or vocational teaching of the OHS profession in Australia, or the profession as such. Recent changes in OHS programs in the tertiary education domain could as well be attributed to the requirements of the AQF framework and subsequent university internal accreditation of courses. Given that university program accreditation through the AOHSEAB is voluntary and not aligned with statutory frameworks, but potentially intended as a marketing/branding exercise, the response to the accreditation offer in the tertiary sector is fragmented (21/32 programs accredited). Moreover, in vocational training and professional certification, change will require statutory authority on the basis of a cohesive professional project. While it seems too early to determine any impact of such accreditation and certification activities on the OHS profession in Australia, the potential long term effects of accreditation and certification attempts need to be carefully considered and investigated.
Conclusions While there is wide consent across stakeholders that further professionalisation of the OHS occupation in Australia will require consolidated accreditation and certification structures, the current attempt by SIA has failed to provide the required solid professional foundation. It is also lacking statutory authority and support. As a consequence, the impact of the accreditation and certification framework has been marginal.
- professional project
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