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How to be successful when undertaking
 Telephone Professional Discussion

The Level 5 NVQ Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety Practice

The main aim of a Professional Discussion in terms of a qualification is to satisfy a given standard or a particular criteria set by an awarding body. Perhaps just as important, a PD, as we at SVT refer to it, offers the Learner the opportunity to show their knowledge of a subject in discussion with their Assessor.

It is likely that you, the Learner or Student,  will be asked to provide written answers to set questions within the qualification, and to provide the Assessor with supporting evidence, documents that support the written work you provide, but within a PD you the Learner have the opportunity to either enhance or when needed clarify any written work you have submitted.

In some cases, written work is not asked for by the Assessor, and a question or a range of questions can be answered verbally by the Learner. Just a note about those who prefer to write, or whose spoken English poses some challenges, or where telephone or other communications are a challenge. Your Assessor will discuss this with you and make arrangements to suit you wherever possible.

As the Learner you will see within a particular unit that the question is asked, followed an instruction that states, no written work required this is answered within a Professional Discussion. At a suitable time and date, the Assessor will organise to call you. From your point of view, you have the question or set of questions already available to you, these can be found with each unit. In any case the assessor will provide you with notice of which questions you will be asked to answer at the time of the PD. It is likely that you will be given at least three days’ notice, maybe more. This means that you will have time to consider your answers and if needed do a little research on the subject.

At the time of the call the assessor will ensure that you are comfortable with the subjects to be discussed. The Assessor will discuss the questions with you and explain what they are looking for in terms of answers from you. This is not to say that they will prompt you and provide you with the answers but what they can do is to explain the process and the level of detail needed. The discussion is recorded, a report is made by the Assessor highlighting the criteria that was met and then the report and audio recording is uploaded to Learn Assist.

At the end of the discussion the Assessor should indicate to you what criteria was met and if any area was a little weak in terms of your answers. They may at this point continue with the discussion and cover these points to ensure that the discussion has been successful. If this is not a preferred option, either by you or the Assessor,  then you may be asked for some written work, but only to clarify a point of weakness in the discussion.

Let us now look at an example within a unit. One of the subjects deals with Health & Safety policy. A question within this unit is answered by you through a PD with your Assessor. The question: ‘Explain the nature and role of the Health and Safety Policy and procedures within the organisation’. This is a relatively straight forward one.  You have two things to draw on here, firstly your H&S workplace management experience and secondly your knowledge of the subject.

When answering this question, you would want to get straight to the point, answer the set question first and then you have the opportunity to put your answer in context and provide an example to support your answer. Your answer should provide an explanation of what a H&S policy is, the what, who why etc. You might then want to give a further example using your organisations policy and in basic terms explain a few sections of it, such as who is responsible for what. Many Learners also provide additional information such as what the statute states. This is acceptable and your Assessor may make a note of this and add the information to other areas of the standards within the qualification as additional evidence of your knowledge.   

There are also a whole set of questions to be answered through a professional discussion that are based on Communication. In fact, there around 15 questions based on this and as such you really need to understand the subject. Prior to the PDs it is important to prepare, be in a quiet area and make time so you are not rushed or interrupted. Again, your Assessor will provide you with hints and tips before the discussion starts so don’t be concerned, you will be asked questions that you know the answers to, and the Assessor is not there to try and catch you out.

A question that often comes up is how do you communication health and safety throughout the organisation. You do this, probably on a daily basis and in many different ways. You might again want to choose a particular area or subject area to discuss such as policy or culture ensuring that a positive culture is in place or promoting a positive culture while staying on subject of communication. You might again want to make a few notes prior to the discussion to help you. The HSE site is useful as is the IOSH site, its all out there but keep in mind your Assessor is looking to discuss how you, in your place of work, manage OH&S and in this case, your OH&S communications and systems.

So, what have you learned from this? I hope you now understand how the professional discussions are organised, that you will have time to prepare and that the Assessor will only ask you questions that you, using your experience and knowledge, can answer.

Within the level 5 and 6 qualifications in Occupational Health & Safety Practice there are approximately 45 professional discussions for you to undertake with your assessor. In my 15 years of experience most questions on average take about 15 minutes to answer. That’s approximately 7 ½ hours of professional discussion that will be added to your portfolio as good evidence of your knowledge and experience.  It may also be of interest that about the same number of questions require you to provide detailed written answers. Learners vary on writing styles and as such I cannot estimate how long it takes to write an answer, but I can tell you it took me three hours to write this and five minutes to read it aloud.

And finally, keep in mind that these qualifications, when completed in full, offer you the opportunity of Graduate membership of the Institution of Occupational Safety & Health that will, if you wish, lead you to Chartered membership by IPD. Nobody said it was going to be easy, if it were easy everyone would be doing it who had an interest and career in OH&S. Other professional bodies are available to you of course.

Mike Watson

SVT Ltd Lead Assessor