Integrating OSH into education improves young people’s risk intelligence and could generate interest in an OSH career.
The right to education is enshrined in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet for millions of young people and children, attendance at school to develop the skills that are critical for their development remains an unattainable goal.
The UN estimates that more than 615 million children and adolescents cannot read or do basic maths. In 2015, the body unveiled its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, requiring the international community to commit to achieving 17 goals. The fourth of these aims to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’.
In December 2018, a resolution was adopted to proclaim 24 January as International Day of Education. The event’s third anniversary – the theme for which is ‘Recover and revitalize education for the COVID-19 generation’ – is especially significant because the pandemic has had a severe impact on education provision.
Inclusive and equitable education and lifelong learning are linked to employee competence and an individual’s ability to develop new skills. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8 is important here because it recognises that higher education is crucial to the promotion of decent work and productive employment.
The European Network Education and Training in Occupational Safety and Health (ENETOSH) runs a task group of international OSH experts who help to promote the mainstreaming of decent work into higher education institutions. This involves identifying innovative teaching and learning that integrates SDG 8 competences into curricula.
As Fiona Riley, chair of IOSH’s Education Group, notes, the ability to develop new skills is particularly relevant to OSH professionals in the current climate. ‘They might have the core skills but if they are not capable of spreading the OSH message then they are not effective,’ she says. ‘They might be competent to be a safety manager but are they are adaptable enough?’
Young employees are new to the work environment and have a greater risk of being hurt because they are less experienced and have had less training
OSH has a pivotal role in supporting the UN’s SDGs. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) and IOSH have both been proactive in promoting OSH principles in education.
In 2013, EU-OSHA published its report Occupational safety and health and education: a whole school approach, calling for the integration of risk education and school safety and health management throughout school activities.
The thinking is that if children start learning about safety and health and identifying risks, it becomes a natural part of how they work, play and live. This arms them with a positive perception of OSH that they can carry into adulthood. It may also encourage them to consider a future OSH career.
As EU-OSHA’s Sarah Copsey explains, the emphasis should be on real-life examples. ‘It’s about getting the children to inspect and look for hazards and then talk about what the problems are and what rules there should be. If they are involved in these decisions, they have more ownership.’
IOSH agrees: ‘Helping children to be risk-aware – not risk-averse – is giving them a valuable and transferable life skill.’
Key steps: Improve OSH education
- Include hazard and risk education on teacher training courses.
- Incorporate OSH education across university curriculums to prepare students for the world of work.
- Provide learning flexibility for OSH students – for example, one day a week in a classroom for distance learners.
- Introduce OSH career opportunities in the final year of secondary school and place more emphasis on apprenticeships and placements.
- More support from IOSH and senior OSH professionals to help students at IOSH-accredited universities to gain practical experience.
Young people undertaking further education and attending university would particularly benefit from risk education as they are a vulnerable employment group. As IOSH notes, young workers are believed to be 40% more likely to sustain work-related harm than older colleagues.
Data from the European Statistics on Accidents at Work on the OSHwiki knowledge hub backs this up. First, young employees are new to the work environment and have a greater risk of being hurt because they are less experienced and have received less training. Often, they are given the most physically demanding jobs, which can involve undertaking risky tasks. It also takes confidence to challenge superiors if you feel that work is unsafe. But, by integrating OSH, young employees would become more ‘risk intelligent’ and better placed to identify safe work practices.
Dr Haruna Moda, programme leader and senior lecturer in occupational safety, health and environment at Manchester Metropolitan University, says: ‘We know that many students take part-time jobs so by incorporating OSH into university curriculums we can address several issues. One is to prepare them for the world of work while also helping them to become more aware of what is happening around them so we can bring the number of non-fatal injuries down.’
IOSH’s policy position calls for education and training systems to cover OSH in national, vocational and professional curricula. It also supports competence and leads the International Social Security Association Section on Education and Training for Prevention.
The pandemic has created new challenges but also presented a broad range of opportunities.
The challenge relates to the provision of teaching remotely, and the disruption it has caused to practical work – for example, it has been almost impossible for students to undertake placements and site visits. Also, lecturers have had to adapt their approach to teaching from face-to-face to online lectures, which has impacted lesson preparations.
On the plus side, it has enabled lecturers to meet, albeit online, students across the world.
‘It has also brought to light the role of OSH in the world of work,’ Haruna says. ‘We touched on mental health, and this is the sort of thing that we need to prepare the new generation of OSH professionals to deal with when they are going into work environments.’
The pandemic has also provided an opportunity to engage actively with IOSH’s WORK 2022 strategy.
‘We’ve tried to proactively promote [strategic] partnership and collaboration across work with the aim that when they go out into the world of work, it will be possible to develop those types of partnership further.
‘Another thing that I have seen in the expansion of the WORK 2022 strategy is the development around competency, capability and range of skills,’ Haruna says.
‘We’ve seen more international collaboration. We have students stationed abroad who don’t need to come to the UK. They will be able to access the programme remotely and engage with us. The platform offers 24-hour support. Library support is there and the administrators and lecturers are there to provide support.’
My OSH journey
I had difficulties being released to do the NEBOSH diploma in the classroom, so the only alternative was distance learning. I spent a good year revising at home every day. But when it came to my first exams, it became clear to me that I wasn’t an exam student.
The NVQ is a good substitute for the diploma. However, at the time I was a consultant, so I was here, there and everywhere, making the vocational part difficult. There needs to be an element of learning in a classroom.
The NEBOSH certificate level is fine for anyone who has some safety experience. After that, you need something that balances vocational skills, revising exams and doing safety in the workplace.
More than one route
Still, it’s not only about upskilling the future workforce. A pipeline of highly skilled OSH professionals is vital to help reduce workplace accidents and fatalities, and highlight issues such as mental health.
That means encouraging more young people to pursue an OSH career and supporting them through their studies, whether that is at university or via schemes like the UK’s first safety, health and environment apprenticeship.
It also requires a firm commitment to lifelong and adult education for OSH professionals and an emphasis on CPD to help those who are joining it as a second or third career.
Environment, health and safety trainer and adviser Dominic Jackson is one example. He started in plumbing and then moved into a health and safety role before passing his NVQ Level 5 in occupational health and safety. He recently obtained Chartered status. ‘My route into the profession has been through getting the life experience first and then building up my competencies from continuously learning and developing,’ he says.
Tristin Morrison, risk control adviser at Premier Risk Services, is part of a new generation of student IOSH members (see IOSH’s next generation, above) joining the profession during university. The South African graduated with a degree in safety, health and environmental management – an IOSH-accredited course run by Leeds Beckett University.
Tristin says that introducing OSH career opportunities in the final year of secondary school would make students aware of the different sectors that OSH professionals work in. He says more financial support is needed to promote apprenticeships and placements.
‘No university degree teaches you the experience of dealing with real-world scenarios,’ he says. ‘I learnt more in a year and a half in this role than I did at university because you are with people who do it day in, day out.’
Kyle Durward, another graduate member, started as a safety manager after passing the NEBOSH certificate. A consultant who runs his own business, he spent three years resitting the NEBOSH diploma before turning to the NVQ route as a distance learner (see My OSH journey, above) to gain his IOSH graduate status.
He feels that an entrenched attitude towards certain qualifications needs to change. ‘I work with a lot of safety professionals who are graduate or Chartered members, and you don’t know what route they’ve gone down,’ he says. ‘It shouldn’t really matter but if you look at job adverts, certainly for senior roles, they say “must have diploma”. If I were to apply for one of those, I would say, “I’m a graduate of IOSH”, which should prove that I am the equivalent.’
Kyle also passed IOSH’s Train the Trainer e-learning course, which helps trainers who do not hold a Level 3 adult training qualification to fulfil this requirement.
Fiona believes one of the most effective ways to help meet UN SDGs is through collaboration, as reflected in IOSH’s WORK 2022 strategy.
‘It’s about building relationships with others and IOSH has been proactive in providing free learning resources,’ she says. ‘Teaching technical and vocational skills is the best route to grow OSH in countries where the level of education is low. It’s about giving people skills that they can earn a living from.’