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Thesis Chapter 1 On Improving the Effectiveness of Occupational Health and Safety Education Program in Australian Universities

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Chapter 1


Improving the Effectiveness of Occupational Health and Safety Education Program in Australian Universities



Globally, technological, economic and intellectual changes of the past quarter of a century have resonated in higher education. The proliferation of geographic information system in health, online or distance learning in college and even in the Masteral level became an integral part of health education. Moreover, there has been an escalation of knowledge in various fields, incremental developments in the technologies that produce and disseminate knowledge, and shifts in epistemology that have had important influences intellectually (Manderson, 2002). The development of technology for instance had challenged the traditional manner of delivering services (i.e. patients having to go the hospitals) to that of a pro-active health delivery (services rendered at home and at work).

The training that we provide in universities today is challenged by these developments, and by the concomitant and consequent changes in the demand for particular academic and vocational skills. This in turn has had profound influence on how we understand higher education, and the relationship between its provision, its competence, its presenters, its consumers, and their future employers.

            Historically, health training has had little investment (Manderson, 2002); it has been an area vulnerable to public scrutiny in the face of changing demands of the field, changing definitions of its content, and changes in budgetary and other resource support, and the ability to attract students. The effect of this has been the difficulty of public health professionals to build up a critical mass, including those able to provide leadership from within the universities (Manderson, 2002).

At the worker level, occupational health and safety (OHS) education programs aim to instruct workers in recognizing hazards in the workplace, and using appropriate methods to prevent the occurrence of these incidents and to protect themselves from such harms. Cohen and Colligan (1998) cited the different levels of OHS education programs available, which included fundamental, recognition, problem-solving, and empowerment programs.

Fundamental programs involve instruction in prevention of work-related injury and illness through proper use and maintenance of tools, equipment, materials; knowledge of emergency procedures; personal hygiene measures; needs for medical monitoring; and use of personal protective equipment for non-routine operations or as an interim safeguard until engineering controls can be implemented.

            The next level, the recognition programs, include instruction emphasizing awareness of workplace hazards and risks; knowledge of methods of hazard elimination or control; under-standing right-to-know laws and ways for collecting information on workplace hazards; recognizing symptoms of toxic exposures; and observing and reporting hazards or potential hazards to appropriate bodies. 

Problem-solving programs, on the other hand, aim at giving workers the information and skills enabling them to participate in hazard recognition and control activities. These programs also help identify/solve problems through teamwork, to use union and management means, and to exercise rights to have outside agencies investigate workplace hazards when warranted. In the decade, the risk management program had been the dominant risk management approach in Australia.

Moreover, empowerment programs provide instruction to build and broaden worker skills in hazard recognition and problem-solving skills much like that noted above. Emphasis, however, is on worker activism with the goal of ensuring their rights to an illness-and injury-free workplace (Wallerstein & Baker, 1994). Hence, the program aims at enabling workers to effect necessary control measures through educating co-workers and supervisors, and through use of committee processes or in health/safety contract negotiations. This approach is in accord with the current “Total Quality Management” and ISO 9000 Quality Management philosophy, having rank-and-file workers along with their supervisors share greater roles in and be more accountable for addressing workplace hazard control needs.

This diversity creates problems for training, where there are expectations of a `common product' as is generally true for the degree of PhD. Departments that deliver vocational courses head off this dilemma by ensuring professional accreditation of their courses; alternatively, academic training may be structured as a prelude to professional accreditation, with the latter provided through a system of supervised practice and apprenticeship (as is the case with internships in medicine) (Manderson, 2002).

In 2002, the Australian Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council crafted the Strategy that sought the “commitment of all Australian governments, as well as the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Australian Council of Trade Unions, to work cooperatively on national priorities for improving occupational health and safety (OHS) and to achieve minimum national targets for reducing the incidence of workplace deaths and injuries (Wallerstein and Baker, 1994).” The strategy drafted became the basis for action in the 2003 general plan of action in OHS.

Moreover, the council established a set of national priority action plans for 2002-2005. Their 2003 campaign aims to consolidate the objectives of the 2002 campaign and encourages employers and occupational safety and health decision makers to consult with employees. The campaign will focus on its priority areas namely: chemicals and harmful substances, electricity, manual handling – lifting, new and young workers, slips and trips, and working at heights.

However, success of the plan implementation would greatly rely on the working population’s level of understanding of the principles and approaches in OHS (Cowley and Murray, 2002). Moreover, to ensure the sustainability of this strategy, there has to be a sound and effective education system that would supply the workplace with informed and more capable individuals that would effectively carry out this mandate. Engineers, one professional group, are specifically targeted for these OHS educational enrichment activities due to their significant role in the design and creation of workspaces (the different levels of training needs is shown in Table 1). The different levels of education and competency training apply to different levels of OHS needs in the workplace. A manager for instance could not be trained in the same coursework as that of a worker because their positions demand a different type of training. For safety professionals, researchers and safety practitioners coming from mother disciplines, a theoretical training is needed. Furthermore, in the Masteral and Doctorate level, the theoretical training provided in their undergraduate course shall be applied in the workplace. In the Masteral level, the students are expected to provide programs and strategies that can be used in the workplace. The Doctorate level would require a more demanding project such as the OHS program of the organization and the firm and the development of frameworks that could be implemented in OHS. Thus, improving the quality and effectiveness of OHS education in Australia will serve as key instrument in the attainment of this objective.


Table 1. Different Levels of Training in OHS

Type of Profession

Type of Training

Training Provisions


Competency Training

Training Organizations, Technical and further education


Supervisor Training

Management Training Organizations

Technicians/ Junior Safety Professionals

Bachelors Degree Certificate

Technical and Further Education

College and Universities

Safety Professionals from other disciplines

Postgraduate Coursework Training

College, Universities

Professional Associations (accredited)





The new model of occupational health practice integrates various occupational health professions, and possibly other specialists involved in preventive activities, into multidisciplinary preventive services capable of detecting and controlling occupational, non-occupational and environmental health risks. Occupational medicine is one of the fundamental disciplines in a multidisciplinary occupational health team. The training and core competencies of occupational physicians have evolved in Australia to respond adequately to continuous changes in working life and to meet the needs of society (MacDonald, Baranski and Wilford, 2000).

The functions of occupational health physicians is particularly important because in some countries general practitioners or other specialists who lack training in the work environment­ health relationship carry out some functions of occupational health physicians (e.g. periodic health, fitness assessment/examinations and rudimentary health examination); employers and insurance companies to draw up job descriptions and define tasks for occupational physicians employed by them; occupational health services (where most occupational physicians work) (MacDonald, Baranski and Wilford, 2000).

Doctoral training, however, has been constructed as a process by which an individual acquires specialist knowledge of his or her discipline and the methods and skills to conceptualize, design and implement research projects, and analyze and report the results, conventionally via apprenticeship with a `master' professional (Manderson, 2002). This goal provides the graduate with the necessary minimal skills (today, if not in the past) for academic appointment, but does not necessarily provide skills that transfer into other avenues of employment. Issues of accreditation and competency are not relevant in a technical sense; a PhD is not (usually) a qualification for `practice' other than, perhaps, the practice of independent research, although one could argue that a doctorate provides evidence of conceptual and analytic ability that might be appropriate for a variety of management and policy positions (Manderson, 2002).

Competency and the acquisition of technical skills are relevant, however, for master's students, whose choice of employment post-training is more likely to be applied than theoretical--that is, in government, the not-for-profit or the private sector rather than in academia (Manderson, 2002). Students and employers look to universities to provide them with appropriate workplace skills at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. The issue of core competency has exercised public health professionals for some years (Manderson, 2002). Partly in response to this, Master of Public Health training in all states in Australia provides core training (in Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Social Sciences, Health Management) as well as electives and specialization.

Kerr White conducted a review of public health training in Australia in 1986. Following this, the decision was taken to tie public health and Medicine by basing the former in faculties where doctors were trained, and to tie public health funding to Department of Health priorities. As a result, the first (and at the time, the only) school of public health was closed, (Manderson, 2002) and new public health institutions and training programs were established within medical schools with direct funding from the Department of Health (now Health and Aged Care) rather than the Department of Education (i.e. DETYA) (Manderson, 2002).

This is despite the increase in universities nationally which do not provide medical training, which does not receive targeted public health funds to teach a Master of Public Health, and which compete with those who do by offering full-fee coursework degrees. This is also so, despite criticisms of medical hegemony in public health, despite pressure from universities wishing to access funds from the health as well as education budget, and despite appeals against this policy from representative bodies such as the Public Health Association of Australia. (Manderson, 2002)

The location of public health in medical schools has played a major role in institutions defining their pedagogical approaches and identifying the objectives of the training that they offer. The Australian Centre for International and Tropical Health and Nutrition (ACITHN, University of Queensland), for instance, offers at a master's level training that is emphatically pragmatic, designed to train people working at the level of a district manager of health (Manderson, 2002). In contrast, the aim for doctoral training is common to all departments at the university, and other universities share such global aims and objectives at this level (Manderson, 2002). (These include a high level of knowledge of the disciplinary area, mastery of a body of theory and methodology, and the ability to conceptualize, conduct and report on original research.) Coursework training, in sum, has a pragmatic, employment-related objective, and its provision is market-oriented--different courses are developed with different target populations in mind. Research training, on the other hand, is intended to establish a scholar's theoretical and methodological competence within a given discipline, through his or her original contribution to its knowledge base (Manderson, 2002).

In the past, Masters training provided a bridging ground for many to undertake doctoral training, and the demand for coursework degrees was limited (Manderson, 2002). Those students interested in higher degrees proceeded to a PhD program, where their expectation after graduation was to gain employment in a university, offer a variety of courses within the discipline or provide adjunct instruction in other teaching programs, secure research grants, and publish. Since the 1970s, as indicated in Marginson's article, higher degree training in Australia in all fields has increased exponentially, and postgraduate training now serves multiple purposes (Manderson, 2002). It also dominates postgraduate education. For example, postgraduate coursework programs at University of New South Wales (UNSW) outweigh research student enrolment by 3 to 1. However, market forces are presently addressing this particular problem. 

The first issue raised by Centers for Disease Control list of training shortcomings, presented above, relates to the articulation of higher education and the workplace. A dilemma most Universities face concerns postgraduate training should increase its orientation to the potential employment of its students or promote scholarship for its own sake. The development of professional doctorates, which may include practicum and internships as well as primary and secondary research, illustrates the degree to which this has already occurred in Australia and elsewhere. Quality, scope and content are issues here. There is little commonality among universities. Again, this is a topic that requires continuing debate, particularly given that questions of curriculum quality assurance, competence and core content are seen often as an agenda of the richest, most established universities.

The occupational physician is part of an integrated multidisciplinary occupational health and safety service, or has access to multidisciplinary colleagues in such a way as to enable the giving of appropriate advice in related fields of health and safety to smaller enterprises where he/she may be called upon to work (MacDonald, Baranski and Wilford, 2000). The occupational physician for further advice and opinions may call on other medical colleagues, for example specialists in surgical and medical fields.

The responsibilities of the engineers in OHS balances the capacity covered by occupational physicians who focus only on the medical model, that is, on injury minimization and treatment. Thus, engineers takes on the more preventive approach that seeks to identify, assess and control workplace risks so that injuries don’t occur. Thus, a multidisciplinary model would provide a holistic view of OHS training and education and its impact on the workplace.

The role of engineers on OHS had been evolving from merely designing to that of being a researcher at the same time (Rechnitzer, 2001). The primary objective of integrating the two lies in accelerating and improving the safety design measures in the workplace. The key role design plays in OHS can be identified as follows: forklift safety, heavy vehicle safety, and manual handling and construction industry safety. Furthermore, good design requires good information, experience and knowledge. 

However, there were also shortcomings from OHS researches. Research institutes and universities also need to expand their training of occupational physicians and other occupational health specialists and research into workplace health. Occupational medicine is one of the major disciplines of occupational health (MacDonald, Baranski and Wilford, 2000). While occupational medicine is a specialty of physicians, occupational health covers a broader spectrum of different health protective and promotional activities. Each of these specialists will have undergone professional training and acquired experience in a variety of industrial and service fields to achieve wide-ranging competencies. The physician's managerial, analytical, scientific and clinical skills will assist in g the team towards the most fruitful interaction and deployment of its different roles so as to provide enterprise management with a powerful occupational health instrument (MacDonald, Baranski and Wilford, 2000).

Occupational Health Courses have been prevalent in developed countries such that universities have designed courses in order to meet the need for occupational health practitioners. However, on relatively less developed countries such as Malaysia and Singapore, the offering of occupational health courses has yet to be fully integrated in universities.

            However, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, and Malaysia are at a crucial turning point in their development (Altbach, 1989). They have achieved an impressive level of economic growth in the past several decades. They have also built up impressive academic infrastructures that are poised to engage in educational research. These and other questions may seem daunting, but they are an indication that science in general, and R&D in particular, in these four important countries are at a point of take off (Altbach, 1989). In spite of these differentials, the great progress made in health status by the vast majority of developing countries over the last 40 or 50 years may not be so widely recognized (Altbach, 1989). Continuing gaps in health between the industrialized and developing countries should not obscure our recognition of the accomplishments in both types of setting. The struggles of health workers and countless others, often against great odds, have not been in vain (Altbach, 1989).

            Thus, Australia universities have been cooperative in helping countries such as Malaysia and Singapore in developing their occupational health curricula. The Occupational Safety and Health Network of Western Australia (OSHNet) met through the years, to facilitate the export of occupational safety and health services and products of OSHNet members through a process of information dissemination, marketing and co-ordination (Department of Consumer and Employment Protection, 2003).

Strong relationships with Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand were maintained through occupational safety and health missions conducted by the Minister for Labour Relations and the WorkSafe Western Australia Commissioner (Department of Consumer and Employment Protection, 2003). A mission to Thailand in June 1996 culminated in the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with Thailand's Mahidol University, principally to assist with education and training in occupational safety and health and labor studies and the development of distance learning materials delivered via the Internet (Department of Consumer and Employment Protection, 2003). Study programs delivered in South-East Asia included construction safety training and train-the-trainer courses for Malaysian Safety and Health Officers presented at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in Malaysia (Department of Consumer and Employment Protection, 2003). WorkSafe Western Australia also assisted Curtin University achieve a project grant from AusAid to deliver occupational safety and health training to people from industry, government and universities in Thailand (Department of Consumer and Employment Protection, 2003).

            The table below shows a comparative analysis on the developments of Australia, Malaysia and Singapore in terms of their Health Developments. The Education and Training Part indicates that from the environmental health courses being developed, the occupational health and safety of the three countries are being developed. Particularly, courses in the Post-graduate level are being designed in Australia. Malaysia and Singapore are still in the process of reviewing the institution of occupational health courses including in the Post-graduate level. For instance for Malaysia and Singapore, the inclusion of sanitation and body hygiene courses indicates that they are integrating the fundamentals of public health. Sanitation and body hygiene indicates the earlier stage of public health development.

            However, the table implies that there are significant changes that the government and the universities had imposed in order to improve and develop their occupational health and safety. Education and training is the key and the formulation of these changes will be a means of promoting and further enhancing the services that they can offer on their workers’ safety.



FROM 1996 TO 2001 IN AUSTRALIA, MALAYSIA and SINGAPORE (Excerpt from the World Health Organization Report. 2002)





Shifts in national policy

Major legislative changes

organizational changes

Changes in university education, research or training


Priorities or gaps/needs


National EH Strategy (1999)

National food safety legislation (‘01)

PH & EH acts under review

National EH Council "enHealth" formed 1999

National PH partnerships initiatives

· Coordinated review of EH curriculum planned

· Post-grad programmes being developed

National PH “innovations” programme

-Inadequate data, indicators and economic arguments supporting EH efforts

-Workforce develop-ment (educ & training)

-Support for indigenous EH programmes


Privatization of utilities & services

· Sewerage Ser-vices Act, 1993

· 1996 amendment to Env. Quality Act

· Biosafety Bill and Food Hygiene Regs in draft stages

· The Institute for Medical Research, IMR, reorganized into 6 centres

· The National Institutes for Health set up with 5  insti-tutes (incl. IMR)

· School curricula covering environment being formulated

· 1999 MOU on post‑grad wastewater course between UTM, SSD, MWA, IWK

· Implementation of EHIA and relevant databases

· Regulation of private water companies

· Coordination of occupational health agencies


"Manpower 21" towards people as key competitive advantage

Employment Act and Factories Act review,

-Env Pollution Control Act

-Sewage and drainage act

-Occupational Health & Safety Act

-3 new statutory boards fin the Ministry of the Environment:

·         Public Utilities Board (2001)

· Env Protection Agency (2002)

· Envl Health Agency (2002)

-Master of Environmental Engineering course


-Master of Medicine (Public Health & Occupational Medicine) under review



· Development of talent capital

-Community involvement in environmental mgt

· Comprehensive/
proactive work injury compensation scheme




Statement of the Problem

The purpose of this investigation is to look into the current status of OHS education in Australia to contribute to the improvement of the quality and effectiveness of its delivery. Specifically, this study aims to:

1.       Determine the status of occupational health and safety in the tertiary education in Australia;

2.        Investigate the factors that contribute to the status of these programs;

3.     Compare the Australian occupational health and safety education programs to that of Malaysia and Singapore; and

4.     Recommend measures on improving the effectiveness of Australian occupational health and safety education system.



            This study will test the following null hypothesis:

1.    There is a significant correlation between the level of educational training and the competence of Occupational Health Workers in Australia

2.    Effectiveness of Occupational Health Programs in Australian Universities is positively affected by factors such as: the curriculum of occupational health programs, the quality of teachers and faculty members, governmental support and funding, and the population of enrolled occupational health students in the undergraduate, masters and the doctorate level.

Nature and Significance

This study will largely be descriptive in nature to provide a clear picture of the status of OHS education programs in Australia. This study, aside from aiming to contribute new insights to the prevailing knowledge on the status of OHS education programs in Australia, will also endeavor to recommend mechanisms that will assist the improvement of the delivery of OHS education programs the country.

Scope and Limitation

            This study will investigate the effectiveness of the Australian Universities in providing competent and effective education and training on occupational health students and workers. Moreover the factors that affects this effectiveness such as the curriculum of occupational health programs, the quality of teachers and faculty members, governmental support and funding, and the population of enrolled occupational health students in the undergraduate, masters and the doctorate level, will be investigated in lieu with the assumption that the ability to enforce these factors competently will lead to a skilled occupational health practitioners.









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