OHS professionals would benefit from “reflective practice” to assist with continuous improvement as well as taking a more considered approach to improving professional development outcomes, according to an expert in the area.
When most people think about learning and development at work, they think about induction and training modules or being sent to a short course or maybe being sponsored to complete a certificate or diploma course, said Tim Allred, regional HSEQ manager (VIC/TAS) for Programmed Facility Management.
“These are all structured or formal learning activities,” said Allred, who explained that more progressive learning and development teams are using more of a 70:20:10 model, which refers to the different ways people learn – 70 per cent centred on experiential learning and learning through support in the workplace; 20 per cent on social learning and learning through others; and 10 per cent on structured or formal learning.
“On-the-job learning is more important for workers’ development than formal training,” said Allred.
“Learning is more likely to be effective when it occurs close to the time and place of use, then it is better for organisations (and employees) to focus on the experiential and social learning potential to as learning and professional development opportunities,” he said.
“Reflective practice is an approach available to all individuals to reflect, and critically analyse these experiential and social learning opportunities.”
Allred explained that knowledge is continuously derived from and tested out of the experiences individuals have.
“Donald Schön, in his book The Reflective Practitioner, argues a vital attribute of all effective practitioners, no matter in what area they operate, is that they are able to reflect on their ongoing experience and learn from it,” said Allred, who founded the SIA’s Young Safety Professionals network in 2015 and is also a doctoral candidate in the professional studies program at the University of Southern Queensland, completing a work-based research project exploring safety leadership and its impact on organisational performance.
“He describes examples of architects, musicians, therapists, teachers and others reflecting on what they do as they go about their everyday practice.”
Reflective practice allows for individuals to reflect on a recent activity, event or experience to encourage critical evaluation and analysis and areas for improvement.
“There are a number of example templates or prompts that could be used as a guide, however it makes sense to find the best that works for you to ensure you get the best out of the tool,” said Allred, who added that the reflective learning cycle can be thought of as a four-stage cycle:
- Doing something/having an experience
- Reflecting on what has been done/experienced
- Hypothesising about the meaning of our experiences
- Testing the hypotheses adopted in new experiences.
Allred explained that reflective practice neatly fits a continuous improvement framework, which OHS professionals would be very familiar with.
“So, from an application to OHS, this process could consider when reviewing how you responded in an incident investigation – identifying alternative approaches you could take next time to understand what happened, or following a conflict in the workplace – how did you feel before entering the conflict, how do you think the other person felt, how could you be more empathetic towards others if you were faced with a similar situation?
“By incorporating a reflective practice approach to the experiential and social learning opportunities at work and in life, workplaces can improve team and organisational performance,” he said.
From an individual OHS professional perspective, Allred said the act of reflection is a good way to increase confidence and become a more proactive and qualified professional.
“I would strongly encourage everyone to explore some form of reflective practice,” said Allred.
“This doesn’t need to be a daily journal writing exercise. Start small. Grab a coffee shortly after that presentation to the executive team and analyse the situation, evaluate how you acted in it, then decide what you have learned about yourself that you can take forward to be more effective in the future.
“Or work through a chapter or two of the OHS BoK to set up some actions to complete as a result of your readings – then reflect on the experience.”
Allred also recommended securing a copy of The Reflective Practitioner, practice getting vulnerable with yourself, and explore resources such as:
Article originally published by the Australian Institute of Health and Safety.