21/10/2015 - 06:01

Regulation wrangle affects standards

21/10/2015 - 06:01

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Duplication is nobody’s friend, especially when it’s costing your business money.

CONTROL: No part of the economy is immune from health and safety issues. Photo: iStockphoto/RapidEye

Australia's training sector is facing a serious issue in terms of the effectiveness, or rather under-effectiveness, of its regulatory system.

It’s an issue from which no part of the economy is immune; because health and safety, and access to appropriate, effective and affordable training affects us all.

As a not for profit dedicated to workplace skills and safety, the Industrial Foundation for Accident Prevention (IFAP) has faced a range of challenges in achieving its goals due to a range of factors – not least of which has been ensuring best practice during periods of economic downturn.

The current economic climate is one of those challenging periods, with businesses searching for ways to do more with less. Despite this, the IFAP is confident that, even if businesses are planning to spend either less time or money on safety training, good employers will not go so far as to compromise the quality of training received.

However an under-effective regulatory system is something they can’t control, and this ultimately costs them money when it comes to training.

Across Australia there is significant variation in what the accepted ‘volume of learning’ should be for certain courses and qualifications. This is especially true for the entry-level safety qualifications, the certificate IV and diploma of work health and safety. As a result, there are discrepancies between providers that ultimately creates confusion for business as to which is the appropriate standard of training, and brings into question the value they are getting for their investment.

The regulatory system governing the training sector has a significant role to play in this, as different training providers may report to different regulators. IFAP, for example, reports to the Australian Skills and Quality Authority (ASQA) – the national regulator for vocational training and education that came into effect in 2011.

Since its inception, ASQA has also regulated training providers in the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory and New South Wales.

Western Australia, Victoria and Queensland retained state-based regulators, such as the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority and the Training Accreditation Council here in WA.

The role and effectiveness of these regulators was most recently highlighted by the WA auditor general’s report on the Regulation of Training Organisations, published in June.

Amid this report was a finding stating: “It was generally not evident that the [Training Accreditation Council] considered risks from an RTO’s non-compliance or the need to notify students or industry. Even when critical non-compliance had occurred.”

The report also says that a “critical non-compliance” poses a risk that students may not have the skills to work in their chosen vocation, and industry may employ staff members who have not been properly trained.

As a result, both the trainee and employer are disadvantaged, ultimately, costing them time and money, and for the trainee the opportunity to enhance their prospects for career advancement.

The question that arises here is, what impact does having training providers reporting to different regulators have on businesses simply seeking the best outcomes for employees and the business as a whole?

It would seem that, if all were regulated by the same organisation, it would at least go some way towards mitigating the risk of different levels of training being delivered.

Does it make sense to have a state-based regulator in addition to a national regulator when some states only have the one?

Since its inception in 1962, IFAP’s mission has been to assist in the prevention of accidents through the provision of leading workplace health and safety solutions; and we are confident the WA business community has the same goal in mind.

An upcoming conference to be held in Perth next month aims to further this unity of purpose among business and industry.

Headline speaker at the Fluoro Conference will be the chair of the UK’s Health and Safety Executive, Judith Hackitt, who will bring valuable insights into this regulation debate.

In a recent opinion piece written for IFAP, Ms Hackitt stated that sharing knowledge between Australia and the UK was particularly fruitful due to similarities between the regulatory systems.

“[But] what is clear is this dialogue needs to continue because, as proud as we in the UK are of our regulatory system and the results it has delivered for us over the last 40 years, we know that it will only remain fit for purpose if we continue to evolve,” she wrote.

During the past five years, the UK has reviewed and revised its entire stock of regulation and guidance, making it simpler for people to access electronically and much easier to understand.

Ms Hackitt is keen to emphasise the importance of simplicity, which she says results in greater levels of compliance.

“Making things simple and easy to understand has always been important, but we’ve been very clear that the standards we expect remain the same – it is just more straightforward than people may have thought to achieve those standards,” she said.

“We still conduct unplanned visits to sites but these are now very focused on those sectors and companies where we know we are likely to find problems.”

Australia can benefit from taking a leaf out of the UK’s book. We need open and honest debate about the best way to achieve simple, fair and consistent training regulation in order to support the WA business community.

 

Martin Ralph

Managing director

Industrial Foundation for Accident Prevention

mralph@ifap.asn.au

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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