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VET & University

Effective OHS Professionals and Practitioners require BOTH education AND experience. In Australia OHS education is provided through the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector and through the Higher Education or university sector.

The Safety Institute of Australia professional certification program specifies VET qualifications for Practitioner certification and Higher Education qualifications for Professional certification. What is the basis for this decision? 

In answering this question, it is important to consider the different roles of the OHS Practitioner and OHS Professional. The Global OHS Capability Framework, developed by the International Network of Safety and Health Professional Organizations (INSHPO) of which the AIHS is a member, makes the following comparison:

OHS Practitioner

OHS Professional

Implementer/executor of strategy and the framework for managing OHS Designer of OHS management strategy and framework for managing OHS
Communicates predominantly with middle management, supervisor and shop floor, building relationships as a basis for influence, mentoring and providing technical advice Influential with senior managers, building relationships as a basis for influence, mentoring and providing technical and strategic advice
Oversees and drives monitoring and compliance, acting as local change agent when required Involved in organisational review and change management
Supports safe working environment by maintaining administrative processes, conducting training and using state-of-the-art tools, processes and standard practice solutions Considers wider context of business processes and external regulatory, market and societal influences
Advice/action based on technical knowledge, experience and input by OHS professionals and other technical advisors Advice/action based on conceptual and technical knowledge mediated by analysis of evidence, experience and critical thought
Focuses on organisation’s primary processes operating in known contexts within established parameters Able to extend their understanding and control to novel, unknown and complex risks and their control
Accesses, evaluates and uses a broad range of workplace and industry sources of information Understands how to use, critically evaluate and develop the evidence base
Usually works under direct or indirect supervision or mentorship with substantial responsibility for planning own work Values professional collaboration
May work in SMEs with well-known hazards, or under OHS Professional supervision in larger organisations Usually works in large, complex and/or high hazard organisations, or as consultants to medium-sized organisations

The Global Framework also notes that with the emphasis on practical implementation the Practitioners are usually educated through vocational or technical streams while education for

Professionals requires a conceptual knowledge base with a strategic design emphasis which also includes technical development. Such education is usually provided through the Higher Education or university sector.

See link for Framework document

How does education through the twos sectors differ?

The Australian Qualification Framework (AQF) defines the purpose, level of complexity of knowledge and skills and the way in which the knowledge and skills should be applied together with the typical duration of learning for each qualification level. VET qualifications for OHS are provided at AQF 3 ,4, 5 (Diploma) and 6 (Advanced Diploma). Higher Education OHS qualifications are at AQF 7 (Bachelor), 8 (Graduate Diploma) and 9 (Master).

VET training does not have entry requirements, has an industry focus and is delivered by training organisations registered with the Australian Skills Quality Agency (ASQA). RTOs deliver training as defined in nationally approved qualifications and competencies, where assessment focuses on demonstrated skills. While the AQF sets recommended periods for duration of learning from 6 months for Certificate IV to 1.5 to 2 years for an Advanced Diploma, VET qualifications are frequently delivered over much shorter periods and recognition of prior learning may further reduce the learning period. VET trainers and assessors are required to have the competency in which they are training, industry experience and qualification in VET training/assessment.

Entry to Higher Education usually has specific entry requirements and is delivered over a specific time frame that complies with the AQF. Learning focuses on the development of technical knowledge together with and complex cognitive processing to support lifelong learning. While assessment addresses knowledge and skills the focus is on integration to develop new knowledge to inform practice in a range of environments. Learning and assessment is usually delivered by people considered expert in their field and likely to be involved in research. While the content of qualifications must address a certain core the approach and emphasis can be determined by the university.

How do the qualifications compare?

The following table presents the key differentiating features of each OHS qualification.


AQF level

Application as per AQF

AQF typical learning duration (EFT)


Certificate III in WHS 3 Technical and procedural knowledge and skills to undertake routine tasks usually in predicable and stable contexts Not stated Suitable for people who take on OHS responsibilities in addition to their main duties.
Certificate IV in WHS 4 Technical with some theoretical knowledge to undertake routine and non-routine tasks in known or changing contexts within established parameters 0.5-2 years* Suitable for people working in OHS in addition to other duties or who are seeking to develop into an OHS practitioner role. A number of units are pre-requisites for the Diploma in WHS.
Diploma in WHS 5 Technical and theoretical knowledge together with a broad range of skills to solve sometimes predictable and complex problems in known or changing contexts within broad but established parameters 1-2 years* Suitable for people who work in an OHS Practitioner role coordinating and maintaining the OHS program at a site/SME.

Minimum required qualification for certification as an OHS Practitioner.

Advanced Diploma in WHS 6 Broad technical and theoretical knowledge together with a broad range of skills to solve unpredictable and sometimes complex problems in contexts subject to change within broad parameters 1.5-2 years* Suitable for people working in higher level OHS Practitioner roles to coordinate, facilitate and maintain the OHS program in an organisation.

Professional development stream for Certified OHS Practitioners.

Bachelor OHS/WHS 7 Broad and coherent body of knowledge together with well-developed skills to provide specialist advice and functions in contexts requiring self-direction 3 years (EFT) Universities will have entry requirements.

Suitable for those wanting to be fulltime OHS professionals providing specialist advice in contexts requiring initiative, judgment and self-direction in planning, problem solving and decision-making, often working in collaboration with other professionals.

Meets qualification requirement for Certified OHS Professional.

Graduate Diploma OHS/WHS 8 Advanced theoretical and technical knowledge together with advanced skills to generate solutions to complex problems. 1 year (EFT) Entry requirements of bachelor degree (may have special entry options)

Suitable for those who have previous qualifications in a range of disciplines and, preferably, experience in OHS practice and aspiring to a full time OHS role who can demonstrate autonomy, well-developed judgement, adaptability, and responsibility.

Meets qualification requirement for Certified OHS Professional.

Master OHS/WHS 9 Advanced and integrated understanding of a complex body of knowledge and reflective and analytical skills to work with complex ideas to generate new knowledge 1.5 to 2 years (EFT) Entry requirements of bachelor degree (may have special entry options)

Suitable for those who have previous qualifications in a range of disciplines together with experience in OHS practice and aspiring to full time OHS role at a senior management level who can demonstrate creativity, initiative in novel situations and a high level of personal accountability and autonomy.

Meets qualification requirement for Chartered OHS Professional.

How well do these qualifications prepare OHS Practitioners and OHS Professionals for work?

Many education providers talk about ‘work ready’ however no qualification can produce graduates who are the complete, consummate practitioner or professional. This is why many professional bodies provide mentor support and companies have graduate programs. By their definition, VET trained practitioners should have well developed practical skills which should have been assessed in work-based environments. However, the tendency for online delivery of VET training and assessment and other issues identified with training and assessment practices casts some concern over the reliability of the practical, work readiness and OHS expertise of the graduates of some VET OHS providers.

Through universities, Higher Education should develop graduates who have well-developed technical and conceptual knowledge, the ability to be reflective, flexible, adaptable, life-long learners. While all university level OHS programs are expected to integrate learning with work-based/professional practice the complexity at which these graduates are expected to operate requires an understanding of work, work-relationships and operating within an organization as well as skills in applying OHS knowledge and skills. This requires a period of development and sometimes mentoring post qualification. As graduates of graduate diploma and master

qualifications will have previous workplace experience these graduates may move more quickly to operate as effective, independent professionals.

Do these qualifications prepare people for the rapidly changing context of work and changes in OHS knowledge and thinking?

Technology and how it is used in the workplace, in communication and in managing data is creating rapid change in workplaces, work relationships, and work itself. These changes will impact on people, jobs, associated hazards and how safety and health will be managed. Technology will also change how OHS advice and services are delivered. While there is currently much discussion as to what this future might look like, nobody can predict this with any certainty. Can education prepare OHS Practitioners and Professionals to work in such environments?

The learning outcomes for VET education define skills that the OHS Practitioner should be able to demonstrate with some underpinning knowledge supporting the skills performance. These learning outcomes are developed through in-depth consultative processes with industry. The focus is on what industry sees as their needs. The consultation usually has some consideration as to future needs but this is limited by the perceptions and foresight of those consulted.

The content and teaching focus for university OHS qualifications is determined by the teaching faculty, who are usually involved in research, and informed by an industry and professional advisory committee. These groups also have the issue of a limited view of the future. However, as university education is/should be built on the principles of critical evaluation of information, reflective learning, creativity and adaptability as part of life-long learning these graduates should be more capable of adapting to new paradigms of work. University graduates are also likely to take on further study.

Which OHS qualification is the most appropriate?

Australia needs well qualified OHS Practitioners and well qualified OHS Professionals. Thus we need high quality VET education and we need high quality university OHS qualifications. Which qualification is the best for you will depend on whether you see yourself as a Practitioner or as a Professional. It will also depend on your previous education as there are entry requirements for university programs.

How can we ensure high quality OHS education?

Under Australian government regulated processes managed through the Tertiary Education Standards Agency (TEQSA), universities are self-accrediting bodies. This means that they can develop and approve their own programs. As with many professional bodies, the Safety Institute of Australia, through the Australian OHS Education Accreditation Board, provides professional accreditation for university level OHS education. (link to About us) Accredited programs must meet a range of criteria addressing educational standards and OHS content as well as annual reporting requirements. (See links for criteria 2017 under Providers.) See list of accredited qualifications (on home page) .

The content of VET training is required to meet specifications detailed in qualifications and units of competency in Australian Government approved training packages. Registered Training Organisations are required to meet government regulated standards which are overseen by the

Australian Skills Quality Agency (ASQA). In response to wide spread concern about the quality of VET education the Australian Government has undertaken a major review of the VET sector and is implementing transformational change. The Safety Institute of Australia has contributed to the review and is having ongoing discussions directly with government on the issue. The Safety Institute of Australia has a representative on the Business Services Industry Reference Committee (IRC) which is currently the training package covering WHS VET qualifications. The AIHS is monitoring the change process to ensure that the outcomes support quality WHS training. Should the government review outcomes not fully address the current concerns for WHS training the AIHS will take further action to recognise those VET training organisations that do meet the quality criteria and so provide confidence in the quality of training to potential students and employers.

What is the link between accreditation and certification?

Education programs or providers are accredited; people are certified. Through the Australian OHS Education Accreditation Board the AIHS provides accreditation of university level OHS professional education. Through a separate process overseen by the AIHS Certification Governance Committee the AIHS conducts professional certification of people who meet criteria covering education, experience and demonstrated capability. The two processes are managed quite separately. The link between the two processes is that those people who have completed accredited programs are deemed to have met the qualification requirement for certification; they still have to complete the experience and demonstrated capability assessments. See for information on certification.