The current versions of the NEBOSH National and International Diplomas in Occupational Health and Safety date from 2015 and the Unit DNI written assignment that accompanies both has been in use since February 2017.
The Unit DNI (Unit D for National and International) assignment is very different to the old Unit D or ID used under the old syllabuses. Consequently if you followed the old guidance and wrote a Unit D report that might have passed under the old National syllabus you would not achieve a pass under the new system. This is because the content of your report would be completely wrong. The report writing skills that you have to demonstrate are the same – it is the topic that has changed.
NEBOSH publish guidance on Unit DNI on their website. This is freely available to everyone as a downloadable pdf (here). The guidance is the same for both National and International Diplomas. Please note that the guidance is routinely reviewed and updated, so check that you are working from the current version of the document from the website.
You can access the guidance at any stage of your course and you can make a start on the assignment whenever you want to during your Diploma studies. Whilst it is true that most students work on Unit DNI after completing the other three units of their course there is nothing to stop you from working on the assignment right at the start or at points during the course. Because the assignment makes significant reference to topics covered in Unit A/ IA it makes good sense to work on the assignment during or at the end of that unit.
The guidance published by NEBOSH is very comprehensive and gives a clear indication of what the examiner want in terms of structure, content and presentation. It is not my intention to repeat the guidance in this blog. Instead it might be useful to make a few key points to sit alongside the official NEBOSH guidance.
Proper planning and preparation prevents a poor performance (yes there is a seventh P but I missed it to avoid offending anyone). You have to have a plan for your report and this must be based on a detailed understanding of the official guidance. So read that NEBOSH document as if it was an exam question. Hang on every word and analyse every sentence. It’s all there for a reason; to direct and constrain you. So follow it to the letter. You cannot afford to skip this crucial step.
Reading the guidance and planning your report structure takes time. Carrying out investigations in your workplace to gather evidence for the assignment takes time. Writing it up and then editing your draft work takes time. So plan to give yourself plenty of time. If you are intending to finish a unit exam and then work on Unit DNI I would recommend that you give yourself at least three months. It takes a spectacularly strong candidate to do a unit exam in July and submit the report in August and pass both.
Unit DNI must be completed in a real workplace. Ideally your real workplace, though it may be possible to carry out the assignment in a workplace that is not your own if circumstances necessitate it. This workplace must be big enough and complex enough to require some form of safety management system. A small company employing two or three workers would not be appropriate because most of the elements that must be examined during the assignment would not be relevant in such a small company. As you read the guidance you will see that there must be a need for leadership and worker consultation, etc. Very small workplaces do not fit the bill.
The structure of the report is clear from the guidance. But you must make sure that this structure is followed and that your reader can see the structure in the report. So you have to use presentation methods that will show your reader the structure. Present a table of contents. Use headings and sub-headings to demark the main sections of the report. Number the headings and sub-headings. Break your text up into paragraphs and as you move from one topic or idea to the next use paragraph breaks to show the change in focus. Do not number individual paragraphs.
The guidance specifies that your executive summary must be presented using Arial 11. This is a standard business font and size – so why not use it for the rest of the text in the report?
Make sure that your headings and sub-headings look like headings and sub-headings. Use slightly larger font size. Embolden the text. Or underline it. Or both.
Use figures and graphics to present complex or numerical data. Why write a hundred words about a safety management system when one figure paints the picture? Why present a table of data when a graph shows the relationships? Every table or figure must have a title. Standard protocol is that the title goes above a table, but below a figure. Reference figures and tables from external sources.
Avoid the use of presentation gimmicks such as generic pictures or font colour changes.
Try to write in the third person without using the words I, my, you and yours.
“I think you will agree with me that his behaviour is not acceptable” is not great.
“The demonstrated behaviour falls below that expected of a person in this position of authority” is better (though you would have to present evidence of both the behaviour and the standard expected to uphold the view).
Students sometimes struggle to write a report like Unit DNI because they think they have to use very flowery, convoluted language. This is not the case. Keep it short and simple. One sentence; one idea. Next sentence; next idea. If you are not used to writing academic reports then find and use your own natural voice.
Inevitably some workplaces are complex and describing the activities and processes requires the use of technical language. But your reader may not be familiar with your industry so write accordingly. Use the appropriate technical language but explain it as you go or include a glossary for frequently used jargon or abbreviations. Keep it as reader friendly as you can.
Your report must be well referenced. This shows the examiner that you have done your background reading and that all of the essential standards or ideas are not figments of your own imagination but come from legitimate authoritative sources. If you are going to talk about business risk management then reference it back to legitimate sources. If you are going to talk about leadership and different leadership styles then anchor them to legitimate, authoritative sources. Look beyond the standard HSE sources to other authoritative sources. Do not use Wikipedia or your RRC textbook.
When you are examining a topic or issue, for example one of the ‘elements’ as outlined in the NEBOSH guidance, make sure that you critically evaluate that element. This means that you have to find out what the particular element is concerned with. You have to understand the standard or standards that might apply and you have to collect evidence to demonstrate the actual practices in your workplace. You then have to make objectives judgements about how actual practice matches the standard that might be expected with a view to highlighting strengths and weaknesses.
So if you make very subjective and personal sweeping statements about behaviour without any reference to what the standards of personal behaviour should be you will not win the marks. If you identify what the standards should be but fail to present any evidence as to what is currently happening you will not win good marks. If you show the examiner that you have a firm grasp of what the standard should look like, what it actually looks like in your workplace and objectively highlight the discrepancies based on the evidence; then you stand a chance of getting the marks.
Professional, objective, ethical
The examiner does not want to know who you like and who you don’t like. They do not want to know company gossip. They do not want to see sweeping emotive generalisations with no basis in fact. They want a professional report that is built on a solid foundation of objective evidence presented through the lens of a safety practitioner working to the ethical standards espoused by their chosen professional body (such as IOSH or IIRSM).
There is no formal word count cap applied by NEBOSH. The guidance makes it clear that the report should be around 8,000 words long. An upper limit of 12,000 words is indicated. But you can go over. If you do go over 12,000 words then you have to ask yourself: have I waffled too much? Have I used twenty words instead of eight? Chances are that you could edit your work down to a more concise form that still covers the content.
Once you have spent several weeks working on Unit DNI you will not be able to see the wood for the trees. Errors and typos that will be obvious to your reader will slip past you unnoticed even though you have checked your work three times in the last hour. You have to plan for this by giving yourself the opportunity to put the work aside for a few days so that you can return to it with fresh eyes.
Ideally get someone else to proof read your work for spelling errors, etc. But don’t allow that someone to re-write your work because your submitted work must be your own.
Your finished report is submitted direct to NEBOSH by you to the deadline that you have agreed to with NEBOSH. The report is submitted electronically, not in hard-copy form. This means that the entire report can be checked for plagiarism using standard academic software. If you have copied any of your work from another student’s submission or any other source it will immediately show up as potential plagiarism. This is in line with standard practice in most other academic assessment circles. NEBOSH will investigate all cases of potential plagiarism and treat proven cases as malpractice through their standard disciplinary process.
Use the marking scheme
The NEBOSH guidance includes an indication of where the marks are attributed in the assignment and what the grade boundaries are. So you can see where the marks are going. This is very useful when you are planning and writing your report because you can see that certain parts of the report are very mark-rich whilst other sections do not have a lot of marks available for doing several different things (e.g. compare the Executive Summary to the Introduction). It’s also useful when you are editing and proof reading. When you are looking at a section and reading the grade boundary description ask yourself the question – if that’s what I have to do to get ten marks from this section; have I done that?
And finally Ronnie…
…and finally Ronnie I would like to wish all candidates the very best of luck with Unit DNI.
I appreciate that this has been a rather dry blog. So I’ll leave you with this line from my local paper:
“Thieves broke into the local police station last Thursday night and stole two toilet bowls and a urinal. The police say they have nothing to go on.”
[Copyright attributed to Messrs Barker and Corbett]
Dr Jim Phelpstead BSc, PhD, CMIOSH
RRC Consultant Tutor