Most Sheq managers worldwide agree that we are a profession, but some see us as a subfield of human resources management.
Consulting body NIOCCSA notes that this question is not yet settled. Prof Wai-On Phoon of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine wrote in an International Labour Organisation (ILO) publication that the OHS profession is “a collective group of expert practitioners”.
“The delivery of occupational health and safety services requires a highly skilled, trained and multi-disciplinary team. The question of who belong to the categories of OSH professions as fraught with controversy.
“Usually there is no dispute that occupational physicians, occupational nurses, occupational hygienists and safety professionals, are OSH professionals.
“However, there are also members of many other disciplines who can make a plausible claim to belonging to the OHS professions.
“These include ergonomists, toxicologists, psychologists and others who specialise in the occupational aspects of their subjects.”
Sheq curricula issues
The detailed content of the curricula for training of occupational physicians, nurses, hygienists and safety personnel, as recommended by the 1981 Joint ILO/WHO Committee on Occupational Health recommended these subjects for training programmes:
• Occupational Medicine
• Occupational Hygiene
• Occupation Safety
• Work physiology and ergonomics, dealing with adaptation of work to humans as well as re-adjustment of the handicapped to the workplace
• Occupational psychology, sociology and health education
• Organisation of OHS services, their activities, legislation and regulations.
Prof Phoon concluded that it is difficult to determine what should be in the curricula of OSH courses, but it was generally agreed that it should have greater input of behavioural sciences, including social and community health.
He also noted that fundamentals of management science should be included to improve the understanding of organisational structures and practices in enterprises, and to enhance the administrative skills of OHS professionals.
The latter should include the art of communication and the ability to scientifically investigate OHS problems and formulate solutions.
Different Sheq vantage points
The debate on what constitutes an occupation continues, writes NIOCCSA executive member Rudy Maritz. The Sheq field is so broad that not even educators know where to position the aspects of this unique professional group.
Prof Phoon’s view that OHS is not a single profession, conflicts with the South African OFO, which sees OHS as a human resources (HR) discipline.
International agreement on the definition of occupational groupings is formulate in the International Labour Organisation (ILO) International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO).
Statistics South Africa adapted this classification system for census data and to track the shifting occupational profile of the country’s workforce, in the South African Standard Classification of Occupations (SASCO).
SASCO however does not define occupations in detail and could therefore not be used by the Department of Labour for skills planning purposes.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and Statistics New Zealand initiated a wide-ranging consultative and stakeholder-driven process some years ago to update ISCO, resulting in a more representative framework named ANZSCO.
ANZSCO includes occupations and occupational descriptors. It was used as the basis for the South African Organising Framework for Occupations (OFO) to assist in the process of skills planning within and across sectors.
The DoL adopted the use of the OFO (which extended ANZCO by incorporating additional occupations and occupational categories identified through research and consultation) as a tool for identifying, reporting and monitoring scarce and critical skills, and maintained it through an annual updating process.
This process and responsibility was taken over by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) five years ago.
According to the 2013 Organising Framework for Occupations (OFO), occupations are classified in 8 main groups.
Health and Safety managers
In the OFO, HS Managers fall in the main group of managers, and the sub-group of Human Resources. From a skills level point the HS or SHE Manager is on par with the HR manager, Recruitment Manager, Training Manager, Compensation and Benefits Manager, and Employee Wellness Manager.
The OFO Occupational Code for SHE Managers (121206) notes that this person manages, reviews and evaluates work environments, and oversees the design of programs and procedures to control, eliminate, and prevent disease or injury caused by chemical, physical, and biological agents or ergonomic factors.
Clearly, the DHET sees HS Management as a Human Resources function, and not a health (medical) or safety (engineering) function.
Health and Safety Practitioners are not managers
Contrary to HS or SHE Managers, practitioners fall under the Professional sub-group 226302. This person develops, implements and evaluates risk management policies and programs, trains employees in occupational health and safety procedures, monitors and audits the workplace, and records and investigates incidents to ensure safe and healthy working conditions.
Environmental Managers are described under 226301, with various other options. From a construction perspective, Construction Managers include Construction Project Managers, and various terms in the Engineering field. There is no classification for a Construction (SHE) Agent, Manager or Officer in the OFO.
Safety falls in various occupational unit-groups, and safety officers fall in some specialist groups, like mine safety officer, marine safety officer, fire safety officer, food safety officer, road safety officer, or safety and security officer.
OHS has a very unique place in the business world. One of the key subjects recommended by Prof Phoon to the ILO, is the organisational functions within the OHS professions. Sheq practitioners serve administrative and organisational compliance, and are thus management functionaries.
The ultimate responsibility of Sheq practitioners is in planning, leading, co-ordinating, controlling and resourcing of those functions that achieve organisational compliance in best practices.
Sheq practice does not operate in isolation, but is an overarching or horizontal function, integrating into every line function (vertical) within an organisation.
The ideal organisational structure should have a Sheq co-ordinator in each department, reporting to a Sheq manager and a Sheq champion at board level.
• Rudy Maritz is a NIOCCSA executive member.