On 4th September NEBOSH launched their new-look General Certificate Courses (both National and International). It was no surprise that the launch coincided with NEBOSH 40th anniversary celebrations. The General Certificate course has been the backbone of NEBOSH’s course offerings for many years and has provided the springboard for thousands of careers into occupational health and safety (OHS) management (including my own; see here).
There are various sources of information about the new courses available on the NEBOSH website, such as their news article (see here) and a short video (see here). But the best place to look for detailed information on the relevant course information pages (National here; International here).
The course syllabuses look quite different to the 2014 specification. There have been changes to taught hours requirements, course structure and content and, most significantly, major changes to the way the courses are assessed.
Old v New
To summarise some of the key similarities and changes:
· There has been a reduction in the minimum number of taught hours (from 78 hours to 68 hours for National and 78 hours to 65 hours for International).
· Unit 1 still deals with OHS Management issues such as law, risk assessment and accident investigation.
· Unit 1 is now made up of 4 elements rather than 5:
o Why we should manage workplace health and safety
o How health and safety management systems work and what they look like
o Managing risk – understanding people and processes
o Health and safety monitoring and measuring
· A detailed look at the content shows that this is because 2 elements in the old syllabus have been combined to form one larger element in the new one.
· There have been some additions to Unit 1. Notable a new topic concerned with the management of change and the addition of risk profiling to the chapter on risk assessment.
· There have been some deletions from Unit 1 as well. But these appear to be relatively minor changes to the details of some of the contents. There are no big topic deletions.
· Unit 2 still deals with the practicalities of hazards and risk control.
· Unit 2 is now made up of 7 elements rather than 8:
o Physical and psychological health
o Musculoskeletal health
o Chemical and biological agents
o General workplace issues
o Work equipment
· Again a detailed look at the contents shows that this is because 2 elements in the old syllabus have been combined to form one larger element.
· Unit 2 has some additional content. Notably new topics on confined space working and lone working, the additional of a short section on the hazards of hybrid/ electric vehicles and a change of language from stress to mental ill-health.
· There have been some deletions from Unit 2. Notable the removal of fire risk assessment as a topic in the fire safety element. Most of the rest of the deletions appear to be relatively minor changes to the detailed contents.
In summary there are significant structural changes and a few significant topic changes. Most of the minor changes to the wording of the contents and the language used. This has been pared down and simplified.
The most significant changes are to the way the course is assessed. The old course was assessed by two written exams (one for Unit 1 and one for Unit 2) and a practical assessment that required you to carry out a workplace inspection and write a report to summarise key findings. NEBOSH have been criticised in the past for making their exams difficult to pass because of the way questions were worded.
The new course is assessed by one written exam (for Unit 1) and a practical assessment that requires you to carry out a risk assessment in the workplace.
To summarise the key similarities and changes to the assessments:
· Unit 1 (OHS Management) is still assessed by a 2 hour written exam.
· The exam paper has 11 compulsory questions (1 long-answer and 10 short-answer).
· The exam questions do not make use of command words. Instead they are written in a ‘plain-English’ style and include question words such as why, what and how.
· There is no Unit 2 written exam paper.
· Unit 2 is only assessed by the practical assessment.
· The practical assessment requires you to carry out a risk assessment in a real workplace and record the detailed findings on a standard form.
· The risk assessment includes background information about the workplace and methods used, a risk assessment of at least 10 hazards selected from several of the topic areas covered in Unit 2, an action plan to address all of the issues identified and a detailed explanation and justification of the top 3 priority actions
· Detailed guidance on the practical assessment has been published by NEBOSH (see the NG/ IG Practical Guidance tab at the bottom of the relevant course page).
· The practical assessment can be completed in your own time.
The End Result?
In conclusion, it looks as though the significant changes to the assessment process will make the qualification a little easier to achieve. The removal of the old Unit 2 exam completely removes one of the major hurdles that some people stumbled at. The re-wording of the new-style Unit 1 exam questions should help students to understand what is required of them. The detailed guidelines on the risk assessment should be a significant help when completing the practical assessment.
At the same time the qualification does not appear to have been devalued in any way. To pass you still have to know about OHS management because you have to be able to answer questions in an exam situation. And you also have to be able to do OHS management, because you have to demonstrate that you can carry out one of the core activities of an OHS practitioner (risk assessment).
So it does appear that NEBOSH have achieved their stated aim of ensuring that the qualification is fit for purpose and covers the core knowledge and skills required by both students and employers.
A Personal View
From a personal point of view I am a huge fan of the old General Certificate (in all of its previous versions). It was formative to my early career in OHS and I found it an invaluable cornerstone.
If I had to go round the wheel again I think I would find the new course just as useful and informative as I found the original back in 19Iwouldrathernotsay.
So if you are considering the course and weighing your options I would say “go for it”. You won’t regret it.
Dr Jim Phelpstead BSc, PhD, CMIOSH