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!

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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.

BOHS Diploma Workshop

I spent today with a colleague leading a workshop to prepare potential candidates for the BOHS Diploma examination. We’d been asked to run this by the Faculty of Occupational Hygiene as one of three professional development semiars being run on the day before BOHS conference here in Harrogate. At one time a whole series of seminars were held before conference, but the practice was stopped a number of years ago. Dependimg on feedback from the participants in the 3 workshops held today, they may become a permanent fixture again.

We had 8 participants today. We made it highly participative, splitting them into groups and getting each group to work out an answer to a typical question and then take it in turns to present it to the other participants. Everyone joined in and pulled together some good solutions. This approach also allowed the participants to identify topics where additional work is needed before they sit the exam.

All in all it was a good day and everyone seemed to enjoy the experience.

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Is it covered by the syllabus?

The syllabus for a BOHS module is an important document. For course providers, it’s the only thing that tells us what we need to cover during the course. So in order to be credible it needs to be clear and unambiguous and nothing should appear on the exam which isn’t mentioned  in the syllabus.

Unfortunately the Faculty exam committee are not very good at setting syllabi.  That for M103 is a particularly poor example. It’s not realistic to cover everything  on the syllabus in the time available – at least not properly, and certainly not to the depth that some questions that can appear on the exam require.

We also get some problems with M103 where the syllabus makes a brief mention of a particular topic, but the exam goes on to ask detailed questions beyond the scope set out.  For example, with respect to fans, the wording of the syllabus is as follows:

“Fan types and their applications”

My interpretation of this is that we should provide a brief overview of the different types of fans and the situations where they may be used, possibly discussing their relative advantages and disadvantages. And I also think that this is probably all a Certificate level occupational hygienist needs to know about them.  However, we have had questions on the exam that require knowledge of

  • how noise is created by fans
  • fan and system curves – including the shape of the fan curve for different types of fans
  • how to use fan curves to select a fan
  • the fan laws, including calculations
  • the effect of installing fans in series and in parallel

None of these topics are mentioned in the syllabus and, to me, are not implied by the statement “Fan types and their applications”. The exam requires knowledge not required by the syllabus.

Not only that, I’d contend that a Certificate level hygienist does not need this knowledge – and if they did, well we’d need more than a day and a half to get someone starting with no knowledge of ventilation principles to the point where they can answer questions on such advanced topics.

Knowing that this type of question can appear on the exam, we do our best (that includes us, as the course provider, and the candidates).  Fortunately only a few questions on fans should be included on the exam and it is possible to pass even where the candidates only know what the syllabus requires – providing they have understood enough of the other topics covered by the course.

I hope that when the Faculty get round to reviewing this syllabus they’ll think about making sure the syllabus is credible and reasonable in what it requires. They need to ensure that it is possible for someone new to the topic to learn what the syllabus requires from scratch in one week. And, hopefully, they’ll make sure that the bank of exam questions properly reflects the content of the syllabus.