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Construction tussle update

A Construction Regulations draft amendment may require construction safety practitioners to register, but a potential benefactor of the amendment is under criticism. (See readers’ comments below)

The Institute of Safety Management (IoSM) and its spin-off body, the Board of Registration for Occupational Hygiene, Safety and Associated Professionals (Ohsap), imply that the draft legislation is relevant to their scheme, which the body’s executive secretary, Ray Strydom, started moulding 14 years ago. Old and new critics, including most safety practitioners with tertiary qualifications, and several training providers, do not support the scheme, reports Sheqafrica.com editor Sheqafrica from the August meeting.

The current rumour of a ‘registration deadline’ follows an artificial construct based on IoSM’s three-year ‘development and assessment’ cycle. The rumour served merely to increase interest in IoSM membership and revive the Ohsap scheme at a time when Strydom is ready to focus on administration of the registration scheme.

IoSM and Ohsap have no legal status, and Strydom says they do not seek legal status. Ohsap is a voluntary process, but the close-knit structure of its members and affiliates, all centred around Strydom, indicates monopolistic designs.

If and when registration would be required, practitioners would probably be able to register with an authority of their choice. However, a critic says that “Approved Inspection Authority (AIA) status is handled in the same way as registration, also by Ray Strydom. It is virtually impossible to get AIA status, since every AIA could take market share from the peer panel’s business interests.”

Strydom says registration of practitioners is needed to verify qualifications and skills to practice hygiene and safety. Employers supposedly need help to check the various qualifications of applicants with Saqa, despite the extensive quality controls exercised by registered service providers.

Ohsap says it would force fly-by-night trainers to close down, but government is already organising a crackdown on inadequate service providers. Critics of the Ohsap scheme of additional exams and panel interviews, say that registration would merely endorse likeable people, and is open to abuse by IoSM panellists.

Back in the day

The original idea to form a registration body came from Manie Mulder, when he was the chief inspector 14 years ago. One of his current colleagues at a training company attended the recent meeting.

Strydom also administrates a statutory registration scheme for occupational hygienists, and had built a small but loyal following among safety practitioners, and kept up an array of negotiations with authorities, biding his time for control of the safety profession.

When real work and real consultation had to be done, like finding compromises and drafting a set of basic hygiene and safety training standards, a consultant was contracted.

“Some safety practitioners are killing people,” warns Strydom, as he has been saying for decades. It is widely suspected that some unscrupulous employers, notably in construction, hire unqualified people as safety officers. Registration, however, is unlikely to stop the doubtful practices that legislation and government inspection fail to stop.

Instead of blaming poorly qualified practitioners for killing people, and introducing onerous procedures on practitioners, the blame could be laid before errant employers, their boards, and their investors.

Money matters

IoSM and Ohsap fees for membership, registration, exams, panel assessments, and annual reviews of portfolios of evidence, amount to a potentially substantial income for the scheme. IoSM grading exam re-writes are said to be free of charge, but most applicants fail their first sitting, and re-writes could become one of the major Ohsap functions.

IoSM is also selling exam study books, but Strydom and Louw say the two bodies do not plan to offer training courses. IoSM and Ohsap are led by supposedly independent boards, with the same executive secretary. The Ohsap board members, however, did not attend the Ohsap open consultation meeting in Centurion on August 28. Effective control of both bodies lies with the two executive secretaries, Ray Strydom and Wilna Louw, who is also the IoSM president.

Strydom lists his admin and negotiation functions in a recent edition of the IoSM membership magazine, justifying his secretarial fees and staff, which include his family members, Joh Strydom and Jan Strydom, secretaries Lizette Nolte, Bianca and Erna. Petro Ebersohn work with Wilna Louw in Boksburg, bringing the IoSM and Ohsap staff total to eight.

Benchmarking

The Ohsap registration process is said to be benchmarked to the Australian, Canadian, and similar processes, but this benchmarking does not extend to the content of the exam and panel questioning. The exams are aligned to the Saqa unit standards, that extend only to hygiene and basic safety, up to Level Four, and moulded by Strydom.

Since the education and training systems of South Africa and Canadian or Australia could not be compared, benchmarking could hardly stand comparison to the thousands of pages backing up either of the overseas Sheq practitioner registration processes.

Some safety practitioners say that IoSM and Ohsap do not have appropriate examiners, nor panellists, competent to assess their skills. Strydom counters that a Sanas accreditation process is underway. Sanas itself, however, is emerging from a transition period, some of its functions stalled by a lack of lead auditors.

Some construction employers believe that IoSM’s assessment on hygiene and safety practice is too broad and basic to add value to construction safety practice. Most trainers recommend that employers should assess practitioners on site and on the job. “Mentoring could ensure appropriate appointments and practical performance, not a panel interview,” said another.

Consultation charade

Ohsap consultation with practitioners at large consisted mainly of articles in the IoSM membership magazine. An ‘open meeting’ in August in Centurion was advertised among IoSM members and in only one of the three Sheq magazines. Only 25 people attended, mostly IoSM members. Some critics spoke up here.

At the meeting, a single open chair was placed in the middle of the table ring, with its back to the standing chairman, Leighton Bennett. The lone chair, flanked by IoSM members behind tables, faced the eminent executive secretary, Strydom, behind the main table. The mystery chair in the intimidating position, was announced as being reserved for the ‘naughty’.

The questions drew elaborate answers, notably from IoSM president Wilna Louw, filled with impatient emotion and supposed ‘passion’. The only outcome of the meeting was a concession from Strydom to consider excepting tertiary level applicants from some basic hygiene and safety questions.

“Some practitioners do not want to register, because they fear they may not pass the exam or the panel session,” said IoSM’s training specialist, Joep Joubert.
IoSM assessments have been running for six years, and not without some attempts at dishonesty. IoSM president Wilna Louw said some incidents were “under investigation,” and advised certain IoSM members to “not allow dishonesty and unprofessional conduct to damage your future career.”

Personality cult

IoSM and its affiliate organisations have over the years become a personality cult around Strydom, who trumpets his own role as grand authority in the IoSM magazine, an attitude that continues to alienate most Sheq practitioners and organisations.

Invitations to ‘participate’ ring as hollow as the sarcasm of remarks, like “We need you to come and ask us why we operate as we do.” Strydom juggles tentative alliances with some other organisations to the extent that his various roles and jobs remain free of competition.

The result is that most IoSM alliances remain pending, stuck in ‘approaches’ and discussions for years. A divided profession is easy to rule, and divisions in the profession run deeper than commercial rivalry. Leading practitioners view IoSM as Strydom, and Strydom as arrogant.

The IoSM membership magazine, in former years edited by Strydom, operated on the principle of ‘what’s in it for me’, a motto Strydom openly used in discussion about possible co-operation with another magazine. Strydom trumpets his IoSM promotion and marketing efforts, yet the body remains an almost unknown quantity outside the membership circle.

Some Sheq professionals, with diplomacy, say that Ray Strydom had served the safety profession with distinction for decades, and it is past the due time for him to retire.

Safety vacuums

Several vacuums remain in the local safety profession. There is no generally accepted professional organisation, only one tertiary diploma course, no safety degree, fragmented research and leading practice programmes, no lead body, few lead auditors, hitches in accreditation services, and lack of mentoring by most employers.

Strydom and his associates have attempted to fill each of these vacuums. “I am of the opinion that my office has indeed taken on the role of a national advice bureau, a role previously filled by Nosa,” writes Strydom in the IoSM membership magazine. The boast may well be true, since Nosa stopped dispensing free advice several years before its liquidation and sale, opting to use enquiries as marketing opportunities.

While safety training, consulting, and auditing services are well catered for by several organisations, the current vacuum in state enforcement brings some urgency to the responsibility of the profession to regulate itself.

Strydom has been moving towards filling this vacuum for more than ten years, but he is aged 70 and the organisations he had built are criticised for dividing the profession, diverting developments to his personal ends, and stalling what an open, democratic and active organisation may have achieved.

The burden of a registration process will fall either to the state, or to the profession. The profession, it appears from widespread criticism, would rather risk state incompetence than Strydom arrogance. If practitioners should agree to a registration process, it is likely to involve a portfolio, updated at every job change, and no additional exams or panel interviews.

Anonymous critic

One critic of Ohsap had triggered a witch hunt to find ‘John Smith’. These are some of his queries:

“Some Rosprof members (the highest IoSM membership level) got this status by serving on a committee, and submitting a Portfolio of Evidence. They may no more than a technical diploma each.”

“Some of the assessors are my opposition in business… people with less experience or qualifications than me, certified under a previous system.”

“The assessors are not trained as assessors. The evaluation is not impartial, but based on personality.”

“IoSM says that qualifications and experience do not lead to competence. This is extremely arrogant. Does a one-hour panel assessment on themes like the four T’s (Transfer, Tolerate, Treat, Terminate), ensure competence?”

“I gave the panel a Portfolio of Evidence, but I do not believe that the panelists read the file. I had just been awarded a Masters degree in SHE from USQ Australia, with a higher distinction in Safety Science in Practice.”

“If you argue a point at meetings, the chair closes the topic and refers you to ‘speak to Ray afterwards’.”

-Report by Sheqafrica.com editor, Sheqafrica

Comments received on Sheqafrica.com

The previous article on this subject drew these comments from readers;

Derik de Klerk (2009-8-25); I see in the latest edition of SHEQ Management magazine there is also an article on this issue. In that article, the current president of IoSM, Wilna Louw is quoted as saying:”…in the safety profession, qualifications and experience do not guarantee competency” I will accept that, but how do you measure the other elements of competency?  If OHSAP plans to measure the other factors, who is going to decide who is competent to measure these attributes?

Raymond (2009-8-25); I believe that we cannot allow IoSM to go ahead with their plans. They do not even have the competency to manage IoSM well, or to deliver on the mandate of the institute. If we let this slip through we may again sit in a position where we have to pay for something that does not add value, just like IoSM. It will also be very difficult to get rid of it in the future.

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