Compiling a “Personal Learning Portfolio”

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Anyone intending to take the BOHS Certificate oral examination to achieve the Certificate of Operational Competence in Occupational Hygiene who has taken one or more of the International Modules is now required to submit a “personal learning portfolio” (PLP). This is meant to be a reflective record of continuing learning through:

  • Relevant practical experience in the workplace
  • Continuing enhancement of knowledge through reading of relevant books and articles, attendance of meetings, conferences etc.

Students can register for their PLP at any point from when they have achieved their first Module, and then submit their PLP within three years of completion of all six Modules. Candidates can’t take the oral examination unless their PLP has passed muster.

PLPs also have to be submitted by candidates who are exempt from the Faculty’s written exams for the Certificate and the Diploma because they have an accredited degree.

I attended the BOHS Associates day a few weeks ago and there were a couple of presentations about the PLP by Terry MacDonald, who, until recently, was the BOHS Chief Examiner and the main driving force behind the introduction of the PLP. Copies of the slides he used are up on the BOHS website here

I’ve had a number of queries about the PLP from people who have gone through our courses. And from reading the guidance, listening to the presentation at the Associates day and discussions I’ve had with some candidates who have been successful in having their PLPs accepted, I’m now beginning to understand what’s required.

Candidates who have completed 6 International Modules need to submit three example reports and a number of sheets recording their additional learning and application of knowledge. In other cases the PLP only needs to cover the International (W) Modules taken and not any of the now defunct “M” Modules.

There are two types of sheet:

  • Experience Record Sheets should contain brief details of surveys or other activities where the knowledge from the Modules is applied and where lessons are learned in the field. Essentially, following on from an appropriate survey, students should provide brief details of what the work involved and then list the key things they’ve learned both from things they feel they’d done well but also the things they hadn’t done so well and would do differently next time – i.e. showing how they had learned from their mistakes as well as their successes.
  • Additional Learning Sheets which record what has been learned by reading relevant books and articles, or by attending meetings, conferences etc. Again  students must reflect on what they have learned and provide a brief summary.

But how many sheets need to be included? It is difficult to say but  the PLP should cover at least 6 months after the module course. I would suggest that  1 or 2 sheets per month  would be needed to demonstrate learning over that period so 6 to 12 sheets per module is probably be enough – but quality is more important than quantity and at the Associates day the impression I got was that and average of 6 per module (so about 36 in all) would be enough.

The sheets don’t necessarily have to be evenly balanced across all the modules. The 4 core subjects are more important so fewer will be needed for the optional modules (i.e. thermals and ergonomics).  And a single sheet can cover more than one module – e.g a particular job may count towards effects, measurement and control.

With topics like the thermal environment, many candidates may only have limited experience of direct application of the principles. However, they can get round the problem by reflecting on the issue even if they don’t have the opportunity to undertake a survey. For example, I was discussing the PLP with someone recently who was using a dust survey in a quarry as the basis for one of his experience sheets. I suggested he could reflect on the thermal environment aspects of working in a quarry and jot down something about this. That should count as it would still be application of learning even if no measurements were involved.

Compiling a PLP can be a chore if it’s left until the end of the period of study just before taking the oral examination. The best approach is to work on it regularly. For example at the end of each month, or even each week, stopping and thinking about anything new that has been done, any relevant books, documents  or articles read, or any meetings attended, and deciding whether there is anything that could be written up and included on one of the sheets. In that way the PLP can help with personal and professional development as well as increasing the chance of passing the oral examination.

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Examinations Update – International Modules

From 1 January 2012 BOHS is introducing a major change to its examination system. The current occupational hygiene modules will be replaced by the International Modules developed by the Occupational Hygiene Training Organisation (OHTA)

As with the current system, candidates intending to obtain the BOHS Certificate via the modular route must complete six modules (four compulsory and two optional) and then pass an oral examination. An additional requirement is being introduced – the completion of a personal learning portfolio (PLP)

New Modules

The compulsory modules are:

W501 Measurement of Hazardous Substances
W503 Assessment and Control of Noise
W505 Control of Hazardous Substances
W507 Health Effects of Hazardous Substances

and the optional modules are:

W502 Assessment and Control of the Thermal Environment
W504 Assessment and Control of Asbestos
W506 Ergonomics

They can be taken in any order and can also be taken as stand alone courses by candidates who don’t intend to obtain the BOHS Certificate.

Candidates who have already passed any of the existing BOHS  modules will be given full credit for them and will not be required to complete a PLP in those areas. For example, someone who has taken M102 (measurement of hazardous substances) will not need to pass the new W501 course. Also, anyone who has taken and passed any of the International Modules before the 1 January 2012 will be able to count them towards the UK Certificate. However, they will have to complete a PLP for those topics.

Full details on the transitional arrangements are available on the BOHS website here.

The OHTA manuals will form the basis of the courses. These do not cover any British legislation and in some cases some important information needed by occupational hygienists working in the U.K. is not included. However, it is important to note that candidates taking the BOHS Certificate oral examination will be expected to know British legislation and occupational hygiene practice and will be asked questions on these topics even though they are not covered in the OHTA materials.

We will be providing supplementary information on legislation and other aspects of British specific practice in our course materials as we want to ensure that the course is relevant to the day to day work of our course delegates. It should also be helpful when taking the oral examination.

Course assessment

There are two major changes to the method of assessment during the course. Currently at the end of the course candidates sit a 3 hour written examination consisting of 40 short answer questions (SAQs) and 8 “micro essays” (of which 5 must be attempted). For the International modules the exam will be of two hours duration and will consist of 40 SAQs – there will be no “micro essays”. The new examination will be open book. The SAQs will only cover the content of the OHTA manual for the module. This means that there will be no questions on British legislation and standards or any other materials we provide during the course.

In addition, during the course, candidates will have to carry out basic practical assessments under the supervision of the course tutors.
BOHS state that this is primarily aimed at giving candidates hands-on experience in the use of simple measurement equipment but is not meant to test the their ability to use such equipment in real world situations.

Personal learning portfolio

The personal learning portfolio (PLP) is intended to demonstrate that candidates have continue to develop their skills through practice in the work environment. BOHS advise that the PLP should be started as soon as possible after completion of the first module.

The PLP is intended to be a structured record of the candidate’s workplace learning, practical experience and skills development. The portfolio should contain:

  1. A diary of relevant experience of practical application in all of the relevant subject areas.
  2. Evidence of any relevant additional learning such as meetings and training courses attended, further reading in subject areas etc.
  3. Copies of three relevant reports produced by the candidate.

Candidates have to register with BOHS after taking their first module and then complete and submit their portfolio within three years of completing their last module.  It will be assessed to ensure that it shows the depth and breadth of practical experience required. If the portfolio is deemed to be satisfactory the assessor will notify BOHS that the candidate can proceed to the Certificate Oral Examination.

The BOHS guide on the PLP can be downloaded from their website here.

Update on BOHS Module P601

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Report Requirements

Candidates taking the BOHS proficiency module P601(Commissioning and Thorough Examination and Testing of Local Exhaust Ventilation Systems) who successfully pass the written exam, case studies and practical test during the course  are required to submit two test reports to BOHS within 6 months of the course (there are a lot of hoops to jump through to achieve this qualification!). There have been a high level of failures at the report stage and to try to overcome this the Faculty have developed some guidance for candidates.

There are two guidance documents,

which can be accessed by clicking the hyperlinks above or by visiting the Proficiency Modules section of BOHS the website.

We always advise candidates to arrange to carry out the tests and submit the reports as soon as practicable after they have taken the course to ensure that they don’t forget what they have learned. “If you don’t use it you lose it” may be a cliché, but it is still true! It’s also sensible to select systems that are not too complicated to make it easier for both the candidate carrying out the test and the report assessor.

We’d also recommend that candidates refer to the model test report form made available by HSE on their website. This is very comprehensive and more complex than necessary for simper systems, but it can be cut down as necessary.

Examination Timing

In February, we raised with BOHS our concerns regarding the timing of the P601 written examination. At the beginning of January the time allowed for the Certificate Module exams (M series) was increased. These changes included increasing the time allocation for short answer questions from 2 minutes to 3 minutes. However, the time allowed to answer similar questions for the Proficiency modules was not changed – i.e. it remained at 2 minutes per question. Our view was that this was inconsistent and rather unfair, and we wrote to the Faculty pointing this out. I also discussed the issue with the Chief Examiner, who promised to consult other Proficiency Module providers about this.

BOHS have now announced that that from 1 July 2011 all short answer question (SAQ) examinations will be extended in length to allow for an average of three minutes per question. This means that the length of the P601 exam will now be 105 minutes. We feel that it is a positive development and are pleased that the Faculty have taken on board the views of course providers

Non-ionising radiation

Non-ionising radiation (NIR), which includes the ultraviolet, infrared and radio-frequency regions of the electromagnetic spectrum, falls within the scope of occupational hygiene. It’s included in the syllabi for the British and American professional qualifications and will normally be studied as part of University occupational hygiene programmes. However, in my experience, most practising occupational hygienists rarely have to address risks from NIR as part of their day-to-day job and so tend to have little practical experience.

In the UK, for hygienists working towards the BOHS Certificate by the modular route, NIR is included in the BOHS module M201 “Thermal environment and Non-ionising radiation (including lighting)”. This is one of the optional modules and so a significant proportion of Certificate candidates may not have studied the subject when they take their oral examination. Fortunately, as its not a “core” subject, it would be unusual for the oral examination to focus too deeply on NIR, but questions may be asked on the potential risks and how they can be controlled, even where the candidate hasn’t taken M201.

We allocate some time to NIR during our Certificate oral exam preparation course, and find that for many of the course participants its one of their weaker topics. Consequently this part of the course tends to require teaching rather than revision. We concentrate on the hazards presented by the different types of NIR and the principles of control. I’ve uploaded a presentation we sometime use on these aspects to Slideshare. I’ve embedded it below, but you can view it on the Slideshare site here if you prefer.

The measurement of the different types of NIR is quite complex, as are the respective exposure standards. Given that NIR is a non-core subject, it is not that likely that any detailed questions on these aspects would be asked during the oral exam (it would be rather unfair if they were). However, they are likely to be included on the written exams for both M201 and the Certificate Core examination.

Update on BOHS Modules

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I hope everyone had a good Christmas break and are looking forward to 2011. It’s year that is going to see some significant changes to the BOHS examination system.

Module Examination Timings

As mentioned in a previous post, this month sees an increase in the time allowed for BOHS Module examinations. For the SAQ section of the papers, candidates will be allowed an average of three minutes per question, i.e. 120 minutes for Part A. For Part B, the time allowed will be extended to 60 minutes (12 minutes per question). This means that the exam duration will be increased to 3 hours.

The increase in the length of the examination means that if we continue with our current policy of starting at 11 a.m. it wouldn’t finish until 2 p.m., so candidates wouldn’t be able to have lunch until mid-afternoon. We were, therefore, faced with the choice of starting the examination earlier in the morning or after lunch.  After consulting with candidates attending the last few courses during 2010, the overwhelming response was that it would be better to start earlier, so that is what we’ve decided to do.  From now on we’ll be starting the final revision session an hour earlier at 08:30, allowing us to run the examination between10.00 and 13:00.

International Modules

Another development on the horizon is that BOHS intends to align their Modules with the International versions, developed by the Occupational Hygiene Training Association, at the end of the year.

The International modules were based on the BOHS system, so the overall structure will be very similar. There will be some modifications to the content as the syllabi have been reviewed, but they will largely cover the same ground. The main change are that there will be a compulsory assessed practical element to all the courses. Also, the International version of the exams are “open book” consisting of 40 short answer questions (with no “micro-essays”). This would be a major change to the current way courses are examined in the UK if it is implemented here.

The changeover will inevitably have some implications for how we run our courses and, having reviewed the OHTA syllabi and course contents, we have highlighted some issues to the Faculty that we feel need to be addressed. We’ll keep you posted on developments, so watch this space!

The mysteries of chemistry

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In the early days of our profession, most occupational hygienists were probably originally analytical chemists. They would carry out sampling and then analyse the samples they’d collected. Their background meant that they had an in-depth knowledge of chemical principles.

These days things have changed. In my experience a large proportion of people moving into the profession and studying BOHS modules, and even taking University courses in occupational hygiene, do not have a chemical background. In many cases, they may not have studied chemistry for quite a few years. Unfortunately the BOHS module syllabi assume a good understanding of chemistry, and this is reflected in the examinations. As time is limited on the module courses its not really possible for us to go through chemical principles (although we try and help where we can). So it’s a good idea for anyone intending to take the courses who feels that their chemical knowledge is rusty to “gen up” before they attend any of the courses focusing on chemical hazards.

A useful resource, that can be downloaded from the web, is the review of chemistry in chapter 4 of The Industrial Environment – its Evaluation and Control. Often known as the “White book”, it was published by American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) in 1973 and used to be one of the main textbooks in the field. So it’s quite an old resource, but later texts haven’t included anything on chemistry. However, the principles  haven’t changed since 1973 and the chapter is still relevant. There are plenty of other resources on chemistry on the web, but the chapter in the White Book is particularly useful as it concentrates on principles that are most relevant to occupational hygiene.