The OHS professional: competency versus capability

The OHS professional: competency versus capability

During the fourth quarter of 2017, the Saiosh CEO and president attended meetings at the Department of Labour (DoL) in Pretoria. Two reports were particularly interesting

At the meetings, we were handed literature from the World Congress on Safety and Health at Work, which was hosted in Singapore by the International Network of Safety and Health Practitioner Organisations (INSHPO).

One of the documents that stood out was entitled: The Occupational Health and Safety Professional Capability Framework. According to the report “competency” is commonly referred to as describing the nature of a professional framework, however, a different approach should be taken by using the term “capability”.

To distinguish between the two terms, the report states that competency is about delivering the present based on the past, while capability is about imagining and being able to realise the future.

The report states that capable people have knowledge, skills, self-esteem and values that make them confident in their ability as individuals and in association with others in a diverse and changing society. This enables them to:

• take effective and appropriate action;

• explain what they are about;

• live and work effectively with others; and

• continue to learn from their experiences.

When defining “strategic capability” the report refers to the ability of a business to successfully employ competitive strategies that allow it to survive and increase its value over time.

Another interesting report was the one titled: The Value Proposition for the Occupational Health and Safety Professional. It indicated that occupational health and safety (OHS) specialists are usually cast as problem solvers.

The problems they are required to solve range from helping organisations identify hazards and assess their associated risks, to proposing solutions to control those risks

The report states that there is a need to re-conceptualise the OHS professional’s role into that of a continuous improvement expert, or “safety engineer” as opposed to the current role as just a “problem solver or enforcer”.

The report recommends that the OHS professional understands the work processes as a system and offers solutions to improve the system of work before anything goes wrong, or an actual injury or damage is identified.

One of the major bottlenecks in most organisations is the potential to break down barriers (silos) between safety and operations.

Ideally, safety should be integrated into business operations where the OHS specialists work alongside workers, supervisors and managers with the shared purpose of continually improving work processes.

Cameron, Hare and Duff (2007) conducted a study on behalf of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) in the United Kingdom (UK) with the aim of investigating the relationship between an investment in competent occupational health and safety programmes (OHSPs) and OHS performance in UK construction companies.

The study was based on the assumption that the number of OHSPs employed in an organisation (a measure of quantity) is the main factor associated with a lower accident frequency rate (AFR), with the experience and qualifications of the OHSP (a measure of quality).

The findings from the research indicated that organisations that employed an in-house OHSP had an AFR that was 60-percent lower than those using only external consultants. Furthermore, construction companies that gave their OHSP management authority had an AFR that was 60-percent lower than those where the OHSP gave advice only.”

The above information indicates that OHS professionals add value to organisations, and that employers should include OHS professionals in senior decision-making.

Saiosh members are consistently updated with latest OHS information including free subscription to SHEQ Management magazine. They are also required to undergo continuous professional development (CPD).

Fortunately, Saiosh members, who are located in outlying areas and are unable to attend workshops, now have the opportunity to earn CPD points via Webinars.

Saiosh encourages our members to enrol at leading institutions for degrees related to OHS, thereby increasing the number of Chartered Members. The number of Chartered Members in South Africa is lower than in other leading countries.

Saiosh will be contacting the International Network of Safety and Health Practitioner Organisations (INSHPO) in 2018 to represent South Africa as the leading OHS professional body with over 10 000 members.

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