Kevin Bellairs writes in a 2011 June letter to SHEQafrica.com; “About the ongoing topic of health and safety practice registration (Shqeafrica.com 2001 and 2010), I have done my safety and health internship qualification in the UK in 2005 to 2007, and I am consulting South African small businesses (SMMEs) on setting up SHE management systems, towards compliance with the SA OHS Act, 85 of 1993.
“Where could I register to get recognition for my UK B Tec National Diploma in Safety and Health Management, from the UK Institute for Safety and Health Management, and my UK internship? My registration in the UK was handled via that institute, and remains current in the UK.
“Why are questions raised in the SA safety registration debate, regarding a B Tec National Diploma? I believe that in South Africa a B Tec is considered a degree, but in the UK and abroad it is considered a diploma.
“We need a single voice from the Department of Labour (DOL), spearheading legislative changes and professional registration in sheq practice. DOL and Saqa could assess health and safety qualifications.
“Some issues in sheq mangement should be addressed speedily, to ensure uniformity throughout industrial sectors.
“Various registration initiatives and tussles in South African safety practice sound like a political infighting and a power struggle. Organised health and safety practice in SA appears like a circus.
OHS Act review query
“I also have a legislation update query. I have edition nine of the OHS Act, but according to fellow safety practitioners, edition 10 is available in electronic format from 14 June. Not all companies in various industries are aware of legislation changes being made by the state.
Legislation process flawed
SHEQafrica.com editor responds to Kevin Bellairs on health and safety legislation and registration issues;
The SA state legislates after consultation with industrial representatives. In health, safety and labour related legislation, this process is flawed by inadequate health and safety representation on the DOL Advisory Council on Occupational Health and Safety, ACOHS, as well as low quality draft legislation, staff turnover, and a new Labour minister.
Some construction specialists who read the draft Construction Regulations Amendment that was published for comment last year, have commented that the circus starts at the top.
Our queries about legislation and registration to the new Labour minister, and a request for an interview, have remained unanswered since January 2011.
Mining and other industries are regulated and inspected separately in South Africa, each with their own enforcement strategies, that could lead to two bodies of sheq practitioners. Standoff between the DMR and DOL continues.
About communicating legislation, the DOL publish legislation in the Government Gazette and on state websites. Practitioners could search the internet and SHEQafrica.com for legislation updates, and participate by commenting to the DOL on forthcoming legislation. Notices of legal update conferences and courses are also posted on SHEQafrica.com.
Saqa will sanction registrars
About health and safety practice registration, or eventual professionalisation, the SA Qualifications Authority, Saqa, may be given power to regulate professional registrars, including current and future professional bodies. The Saqa draft policy on professional registration bodies was posted and discussed on SHEQafrica.com.
Due to a rogue and agenda laden phrase inserted in the poorly drafted Construction Regulations amendment, which is on hold awaiting leadership from the new Labour minister, safety membership bodies and newly formed membership and construction membership bodies had positioned themselves to acquire a state sanctioned rubber stamp to ‘register’ construction health and safety practitioners.
However, the phrase requiring undefined ‘registration’ of construction health and safety practitioners has met with widespread opposition, and the hopeful ‘registrars’ will have to prove their sincerity, standardisation capacity, admin capacity, value, and popular support to Saqa.
There is no suitable body to be elevated to South African safety registrar yet, or we would not be discussing this topic, as many of us have been for three decades of professional division and attempted rule by organisations fromed by Ray Strydom and his long time supporters.
The Department of Labour is silent on registration matters, but some officials had in February 2011 discussed the idea of legislating occupational health and safety practice by a new definition of OHS Practitioner, in a long awaited review of the OHS Act. A similar definition in the suspended draft Construction Regulations amendment had started the ‘registration’ circus two years ago.
Meanwhile several bodies claim ‘safety registrar’ status, including Ohsap, Saiosh (not to be confused with the OH body SAIOH), Achasm, which claims authority from the statutory SACPCMP, and another body rumoured to be recturing members in Sasolburg.
SHEQ practitioners could join quality auditors
SHEQ quality management and health and safety auditing colleagues, meanwhile have formed a unified registration body last year, and indicated their willingness to accept and represent safety practitioners.
Occupational health and occupational hygiene practitioners are already organised, but their structures would also face the Saqa test of capacities and popular support.
The function of testing various self-appointed ‘registrars’ against the Saqa policy, and against the wishes of practitioners like yourself and myself, may be delegated to the beleaguered Services Seta, whose former CEO, Dr Ivor Blumenthal, demonstrated some of his sectoral unification strategies during formation of the quality management practice umbrella body, as reported on SHEQafrica.com.
SHEQ research and training needed
Since Dr Blumenthal was dismissed for opposing DHET ministerial meddling in Seta constitutional affairs, and the state is reinventing its own vocational training wheel, the educational circus remains our central predicament in health and safety practice.
The cornerstone of registration, or professionalisation, should be excellent general sheq research and training, which the SA state, and safety membership bodies, and tertiary institutions like universities of technology, have consistently re-invented and failed at for decades.
Membership bodies have failed us by drafting low level training standards, integrating only occupational hygiene and environmental management, which became the meagre Saqa unit standards of today. I believe that the drafters, including Ray Strydom and friends, purposely reserved occupational health and safety training standards to become their personal domain.
One of the few certainties in sheq practice is healthy competition among established, registered training suppliers, in offering courses that have assumed the role of national diplomas.
Our future registrar, incidentally, would not be allowed to offer health and safety training, in line with the Saqa policy to prevent the kind of ‘professional’ training and exam circus that once played out among certain financial service providers, security guards, and other job registration rackets.
Universities to train, state to register
My personal view on registration is to agree with you that the state should register health and safety practitioners, which it already has the mechanism and capacity to do by way of the Saqa learner database. Employers of our colleagues should feel safer in bureaucratic hands, advised by a board that would probably include Strydom’s successors, imitators and opponents.
Tertiary South Afircan sheq training is a task for universities and universities of technology, not necessarily subject to standardisation. I have had occasion to report on initiation of such an initiative, but the gears of academia grind as slow, and thankfully finer, than the gears of state.
We are in dire need of a tertiary centre of occupational health and safety research, training, excellence and advocacy.
Regarding registration, we should be careful what we wish for, since we may be ‘blessed’ with a costly and ineffective state or private body that could take decades to achieve what co-ordinated training could achieve sooner.
IMAGE; Some sheq practitioners want professional status, while some are wary of rubber stamps.