Issues in Educational Research, 4(2), 1994, 15-23.

A research based framework for risk management in Australian chemical education

Peter Forlin
Lecturer in Science Education
University of Southern Queensland
The research reported in this paper is concerned with the provision of a research based integrated framework for risk management in Australian chemical education from a synthesis of the literature and legislation. While the framework is intended for general application, it is adaptable to changing circumstances and it maintains the potential to improve existing situations. The framework incorporates the diverse elements of risk management into a systematic process. By proposing the case for an integrated approach this research has provided a viable solution to the risk management problem, It is argued that integrated practice relates well to the legal principles and philosophies that mandate chemical risk management.


In order to make appropriate decisions about risk, educators need information and frameworks for management. It is the presentation of an integrated framework for risk management in Australian chemical education that is the primary purpose of this article. Risk management is defined here as the integration of policy alternatives and selecting the most appropriate response in the light of administrative, legal and organisational requirements (Forlin & Birch. 1994). It should be noted that, from the side of those whose mandate is the promotion of safety in the workplace, there has been little concern shown for the educational environment. Given the jurisdictional nature of legal requirements for administrators, this research cannot be generalisable outside its jurisdictional bounds. Nevertheless, the research is of importance to scholars in other jurisdictions in terms of comparative research studies.

Decision-making approaches to risk management

"An active and informed work force may he the best safeguard against injury and disease" (Watson. 1985, p.146). Long (1991) proposed that the most important factor in the successful management of health and safety was the commitment of the manager. Despite the abundance of policy and organisational approaches in the literature, there have been few objective comparisons of these approaches. According to Hoy and Miskel (1991), this lack of systematic research has resulted, largely, in speculation by analysts who have attempted to match models with specific situations. In relation to risk management, Cummings (1981) noted that the tendency to exaggerate and overemphasise the importance of methodologies may be directly related to the competition for research funds. Merkhofer (1986) suggested, however, that another reason why few comparisons of organisational approaches have been attempted is the lack of consensus over methodology and terminology.

The framework

The task of convincing school administrators and department heads that the integrated approach to risk management is worth working towards is difficult as personnel in these positions may be searching for immediate responses to troublesome problems. The integrated framework is an innovative strategy which also integrates people as participants into the process. The framework is designed to fit the needs of individual schools while providing the potential for universal application.

It is the purpose of integration to harmonise previously fragmented systems and to achieve this, workplaces must move beyond the individual discipline approach to risk management.

The major theoretical positions of risk management

The integrated framework is constructed in a way that reflects the major theoretical positions of risk management namely, the law and its philosophical foundations of self-regulation and consultation (Robens Report, 1972); a policy approach which is consistent with the current literature on educational leadership; the international risk management systems; and the 'chemical practice model' of risk management (Forlin & Birch, 1994). Risk management has often resulted in practitioners addressing one or more aspects of a risk problem while ignoring other elements of the process which did not coincide with a particular perception or frame of reference. Such programs have satisfied neither the law nor the day-to-day requirements of workplaces. Other researchers have recognised the possibility of moving towards either a law based, a policy based, or a science based risk management system (Public Interest Advocacy Centre, 1991). The degree to which risk management systems have become dominated by one approach has varied considerably from workplace-to-workplace. Should a school apply an individual discipline approach to risk management, for example using the legal framework exclusively or the chemical practice model in isolation, what may appear to have worked in practice may come under pressure to change because of litigation. The apparent strength of an individual discipline approach to risk management lies in its rigour and its comprehensiveness. Its major weakness lies in a lack of breadth and its failure to cover the whole risk management problem.

It is proposed that an integrated framework should be viewed as a necessary feature of risk management. Teachers will research and construct their own risk management frameworks and adjust them accordingly. This modification process to determine the best fit for an integrated risk management program in each school will need to consider specific situational factors and may involve alternative management approaches.

The responsibility of employers and employees

Employers are charged with the responsibility for providing and enforcing safe workplaces, inclusive of plant and equipment, transport and storage (Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Act, WA, 1984, s.19). Employees should assist the employer in the maintenance of healthy and safe working environments in compliance with the law (s.20). Every worker should enjoy satisfactory healthy and safe conditions (EEC Charter, 1989). Chemical educators are characterised as a group of professionals who hold special skills and who exercise control over their practice and in making professional and responsible judgements (Forlin & Birch, 1994).

Individual responsibility

Chemistry teachers and their students work in environments which are no longer exempt from health and safety statutory legislation. Teachers hold responsibilities that correspond to their knowledge, training, and experience. They are required to work in a manner which is not likely to cause injury to self or colleagues and students and to cooperate with an employer with regard to these obligations (Forlin & Birch, 1994).

Managerial responsibility and commitment

Managerial commitment to risk management is important to the success of an integrated program. School administrators have an obligation to provide a working environment which is safe and healthy for staff and others, by providing, maintaining, communicating, and monitoring a risk management program. Such commitment is evidenced by the workplace risk management policy statement together with the complete program, which has detailed the system to be adopted, the objectives of the program, the procedures for carrying it out, the internal standards set, and the monitoring and auditing procedures applied. Throughout the development phase of a risk management program expert advice should be sought and considered in relation to the more complex and technical aspects.

New legislation and changing attitudes towards health and safety, together with increased responsibilities within schools, have meant that science departments need to establish risk management policy through a process which involves everyone in the department and beyond. The creation of the policy statement begins the process. The policy statement and its updates serves as a method of expressing the health and safety philosophy of a department or school. If the policy and ensuing program is to be effective, it must have the support and input from the whole department, without which the program is unlikely to succeed.

The principle policy statement, which is a general statement of intent, should address the special and individual needs of a department or school. A sound policy should be concise, and it should emphasise the combined responsibility of all staff with regard to safe working conditions and practices. It should be drafted on a whole department or whole school basis and it should be updated and modified in the light of new information (Forlin & Birch, 1994). The policy should reflect the philosophy and principles of those who created it. Where necessary the policy may be presented in other languages considered appropriate for the school (ILO Recommendation No.164).


The new Health and Safety at Work laws have obliged employers to cooperate with others who share a workplace. The involvement of employees in decision-making about risk is crucial with respect to decisions concerning their tasks' the set up of the workplace, and the equipment used (Forlin, 1992).

Prior to the articulation of an integrated risk management framework, the degree of participation at a workplace should be agreed upon. The following methodology for a rational model of decision-making is proposed:

Ensuring consultation and self-regulation in schools

The self-regulatory philosophy, referred to as the Robens' (1972) view of health and safety, is fundamental to the success of risk management programs in Australia where health and safety law is developed on this blueprint. There are several issues concerning the process of self-regulation to be considered. by administrators and chemical educators, when planning an integrated risk management program. Clarification of these issues will be achieved initially through the development of an issue resolution policy. The following policy is offered as an example to practitioners.

A Model Issue Resolution Policy:
The Development of a Procedure

The outcome of this issue resolution checklist will be the establishment of a self-regulatory, consultative system for the resolution of chemical risk management issues in the science department of

SCHOOL: ____________________________

Issue Resolution Philosophy

This Department recognises that risk management issues in the area of occupational health, safety and welfare require an agreed procedure. This procedure will be negotiated and developed along collaborative and participative lines and the procedure will then be binding on this Department.

This model for the development of an agreed procedure is based on the assumption that effective decisions are reached through consensus and compromise.

The following is provided as a guideline for the development of an issue resolution procedure.

Issue Resolution Procedure

  1. The issue resolution procedure will be developed along collaborative lines.

  2. The agreed procedure will be available to everyone in this Department.

  3. The procedure will be of assistance to all members of this Department, students, and the general public.

  4. This procedure will involve employees and employers, or their representatives, in the resolution of health, safety and welfare issues in this Department.

  5. The procedure will allow for open discussion and will allow all employees, and others, to raise important issues in relation to the management of risk in this Department.

  6. The agreed procedure will specify time frames for the implementation of agreed solutions.

  7. This procedure will have a built in system for the monitoring of an agreed solution.

  8. The procedure will set up a decision-making structure and will facilitate the continual involvement of all personnel in this Department.

  9. The procedure will allow for external arbitration where consensus has not been reached.

  10. The procedure will encourage individuals to be involved in particular issues that require resolution.

  11. All employees will have access to the issue resolution procedure irrespective of experience or rank.

  12. The agreed procedure will he tabled in print, lodged with the administrative authority, and made available to all employees involved in this Department, whatever their position.

  13. The agreed procedure will be expressed in other languages should this be required by particular employees or others.
This program may be integrated with other organisational policies in due course.

Signed: ____________________________

Risk Manager. (Date: ______19__)

Signed: ____________________________

Principal. (Date:______19__)

(Developed from: Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Board (VCE, 1991), Department of Labour (1990)).

Risk identification and assessment

Risk assessment is a means of organising and analysing the available information that bears on an issue, both scientific and people oriented (James, 1985). It concentrates on hazard prediction. Risk assessments are a systematic review of a chemical or an operation. It is conceded that the limitations of the risk assessment process must be understood, particularly a recognition that risk assessment is troubled by gaps in knowledge (Baron, 1992). The assessment of risk is at the core of current health and safety legislation which consequently affects school science education (Royal Society of Chemistry, 1993). The purpose of assessment is to identify the hazards and evaluate the risks to health and safety and to determine the required precautions. The approach to risk assessment in this research is based on the need to regard each workplace as unique. In assessing risk, the task is to clarify the issues, decide on what evidence is available, consider the consensus, then assess the whole situation (Forlin & Birch, 1994). Within this methodology scientific accuracy must be adhered to and a continual review of risk assessment is centrally important.

Schools will need to develop a policy for each identified area of risk. Risk management checklists and planned inspection programs are important at all workplaces. Some risks and hazards are impossible to eliminate. Documentation, inspection, consistent monitoring, and the insistence on personal protective equipment (PPE) help to contain unavoidable risks while maintaining the spirit of the law. The emphasis is on preparedness and response (see EEC Directive 89/391/EEC, Article 188; ILO Recommendation No.164 (1981), II(q)).


This research has provided an integrated framework for risk management in Australian chemical education. It is argued that integrated practice relates well to the legal principles and philosophies that mandate chemical risk management. The claim made in this article is that the framework provides the most appropriate approach, at the present time, for risk management in Australian chemical education. A major weakness in Australian risk management systems is that they are developed largely from overseas data. Studies such as this are important in initiating a respected body of research that will play its part in the development of an Australian perspective on risk management. The integrated risk management framework is the logical outcome of this research.


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Cummings, R. B. (1981). The urge to shout. Risk Analysis, 1(3), 165.

Department of Labour, Victoria. (1990). Victoria growing together: Local government risk management manual. Melbourne: The Department of Labour.

European Community Charter. (1989, December). On the fundamental rights of workers. [Social Charter, 1989].

European Council Directive. (1989, June). On the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work. (89/391 /EEC) (Framework Directive).

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Author: Dr Peter Forlin is Lecturer in Science Education in the Faculty of Education, University of Southern Queensland. He was formerly at the University of Western Australia where he completed his PhD. His current research interest is in health and safety risk management auditing methodology in high school chemistry laboratories.

Please cite as: Forlin, P. (1994). A research based framework for risk management in Australian chemical education. Issues In Educational Research, 4(2), 15-23.

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