Organisations that perform high-risk work must ensure that they verify the ongoing competency of their employees, and VOC’s are regular activities. However, COVID-19 social distancing restrictions make the task of VOC renewals challenging to navigate. Mainly when employees are scattered around sites, working from home, working in satellite and regional depots, or interstate.

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t changed employer’s OHS obligations or the need to protect against industrial manslaughter laws.

For this article, we look at how to perform VOC’s in the light of COVID-19 restrictions and explore the usefulness of allowing online platforms to do much of the heavy lifting.

Induction Training is the First VOC

When deciding the training needs of your organisation, you need to determine individual employees roles and responsibilities and whether they are to perform at-risk tasks. They may need certified training before they can start work, and the currency of those certificates should take place at recruitment. But the first training your employee receives at your workplace is the safety induction.

Induction training should introduce new employees or contractors to the organisation’s OHS policies, procedures and consultative processes and also raise awareness of the hazard identification and risk assessment process.

The safety induction training should include:

• Awareness of the organisation’s policies and lines of responsibility;
• Hazard identification and incident reporting processes;
• The location of first aid kits and first aid officers;
• Emergency procedures;
• Information on hazardous work practices; and
• Consultation arrangements.

It’s critical to keep records of induction assessments as the foundation VOC’s that can be drawn on, and built upon, over your employee’s lifetime in your organisation.

See our article, How to Create a Safety Induction That Trains and Meets Compliance.

Competency-Based Training

In a competency-based training (CBT) programme, employees gain the skills and knowledge that they need to be able to perform their work. CBT programmes are based on what people at work are expected to do, and are guided by policy and safe work procedures. Many high-risk tasks don’t need formal skills training or recognised qualifications, and this is where CBT programmes can affirm ongoing knowledge and skills.

As a result of CBT, employees should not only increase their knowledge but be able to apply it in the work that they do. VOC’s reaffirm the knowledge trained through CBT programmes.

When designing a competency-based training programme you should

  • Clearly outline the outcomes to be achieved as a result of training
  • Recognise any prior learning, including skills, knowledge and qualifications that the employee already has
  • Be flexible about where, when and how training takes place
  • Ensure you provide an assessment for the training
  • Keeps record of all training undertaken and the results each employee achieves, noting any gaps in knowledge that may need additional support.

See our article, Make Your Workplace Safety Training More Impactful.

How is Competency Assessed or Verified?

The Western Australian Government Department of Mines, Industry, Regulation and Safety state that a competency is the capability to apply or use the set of related knowledge, skills, and abilities required to successfully perform ‘critical work functions’ or tasks in a defined work setting. Competence is a measure of both proven skills and proven knowledge.

A competent person is defined as a person who is appointed or designated by the employer to perform specified duties based on knowledge, training and experience.

Typically, VOC’s contain two parts: theory and demonstration that the employee can complete the task safely and to the required procedure and standard. Prior to COVID-19, VOC theoretical knowledge was generally assessed in a training room or conducted on the job, e.g. through documented verbal questioning. However, social distancing has meant that classroom-training and face-to-face training has become a problem.

The social distancing requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19, state that if you are gathering in a meeting room, you must have 2 metres apart from others in all directions. For example, if the work area you are in is 100 square metres (10m x 10m), you can only have 25 people in that room. Many organisations have small training rooms which means the theory part of VOC’s will need to be undertaken with very small groups and therefore extend the time to deliver your CBT. Where large volumes and regular review of VOC’s need to take place, classroom training is no longer viable.

The second part of the VOC is the assessment of employees skills to perform the high-risk tasks safely. Skills assessments are usually conducted on the job using a practical test or simulation, and this assessment is generally a quick observation that an employee can apply theoretical knowledge. All verification methods, demonstrating the application of the knowledge, must include a documented assessment.

See our article, Coronavirus: Stop Classroom and Group Training.

How Can VOC’s be Conducted Online?

You can conduct your VOC’s internally; however, you must be able to demonstrate that the person doing these assessments is competent and has relevant and current experience in the areas they assess. VOC’s often fall into the role of supervisors and managers. Once again, COVID-19 social distancing restrictions make the task of VOC’s difficult because many managers are working from home. Online training platforms that refresh around the safe performance of high-risk tasks and assess using control measures can help to alleviate the problem.

Tap into Safety, has an online and mobile-friendly training platform that has dedicated hazard awareness content focussing on high-risk tasks and assessing using the safety hierarchy of controls. The training includes courses that are delivered in under 30 minutes, and you can use them to provide the theoretical requirement of your VOC’s. Each module completion generates a report that clearly shows your employee’s safety knowledge on control measures for high-risk tasks, as well as identifies any gaps.

All you have to do to complete the VOC is a safety observation of your employee demonstrating how to apply the knowledge as they perform the task, and make a note of the visual confirmation of their skills. Your supervisors are often your best resource to observe and record that your employees can safely apply their knowledge. Finally, attach the visual report to the VOC’s knowledge report and place on your employee’s training records, and that’s the job done!

Some of the courses on the Tap into Safety platform that you can use in your VOC’s include:

See our article, COVID-19: Settling into the New Normal at Work.

To Conclude

Conducting your VOC’s in the COVID-19 social distancing restrictions can be challenging for organisations whose activities are separate or wide-spread. However, OHS Obligations are not on hold because of the coronavirus, and you still need to complete your VOC’s as they fall due.

One way to address the problem is to use online training solutions to complete the theory and knowledge required in a VOC. As long as the training provides a robust assessment, the only task left is to have your employees demonstrate that they can translate the knowledge into practice. A quick observation is all you have left to do, and your supervisors can do this.

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