Accreditation of Environmental Practitioner Professional Bodies

Accreditation of Environmental Practitioner Professional Bodies

As some of you may be aware, one of the recommendations arising from the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment Report Streamlining environmental legislation December 2014, (view here) was the following:

Recommendation 6: The Committee recommends the Department of the Environment investigate methods of accreditation—including the relevant standards for accreditation—for environmental practitioners and contractors to enable the establishment of a professional standards body.

The ECA became aware of this and the State’s role in the further consideration of this around 12 months ago. We have been liaising with the State Government through the key environmental agencies and also the Minister for the Environment. In June of this year, representatives of the Department of Environment Regulation (DER) attended an ECA Committee meeting and briefed the committee on the status of this initiative, its likely direction and timing and also implications/opportunities for our industry, and most importantly members of the ECA.

The following summary has been provided based on the DER presentation and more recent communications with them this week regarding the initiative.

In April 2015, the Heads of Environmental Protection Agencies Australia and New Zealand (HEPA) agreed to establish a cross-jurisdictional working group, which is known as the Accreditation of Environmental Practitioners Working Group. The working group is comprised of representatives nominated by Heads of EPA in all States and Territories plus New Zealand. The Chair and Secretariat has been provided by the Western Australian DER. The purpose of the working group was to develop a framework that may be applied nationally for the non-statutory accreditation of non-government environmental practitioner professional bodies in order to improve the quality, reliability and accountability of environmental impact assessment documentation and other reports. The agreed timeframe was for a draft framework to be presented to HEPA for consideration in 2016.

The working group has undertaken a review of existing professional certification schemes, including environmental professional bodies but also other professional groups such as engineers and accountants. In addition the working group has undertaken a review of existing standards for the certification of persons such as AS/NZS ISO/IEC 17024:2013 Conformity assessment – General requirements for bodies operating certification of persons.

When the ECA committee was briefed in June, examples of the types of principles that may be developed included that the professional body must be a legal entity and maintain:

  • sufficient resources to cover its liabilities and for the operation of the entity;
  • appropriate information and record keeping measures;
  • a certification scheme capable of determining the following competency requirements for persons applying to be certified in particular disciplines or for particular activities:
    – knowledge, experience and skills to a proficient standard within the nominated disciplines and/or nominated activities;
    – professional and ethical conduct;
    – and ongoing professional development;
  • impartiality in its assessment of certification of a person;
  • responsibility for the decision to certify a person;
  • appropriate resources and management systems to adequately administer the certification scheme;
  • a code of conduct (and administer this code of conduct) committing all personnel and certified persons/members to ethical and professional conduct;
  • an objective, valid and reliable certification application process, assessment process, examination process, decision-making process, appeals process, and complaints process; and
  • fair and objective criteria for suspending, withdrawing or reducing scope of certification, and recertification of persons.

Any accreditation process for professional bodies could be administered by government agencies in each State or Territory jurisdiction, or based on an independent audit undertaken by a recognised third party to determine conformance to defined principles or standards. It was suggested that Government agencies may require environmental reports and other documentation to be prepared or certified by an environmental practitioner certified as an accredited body, and accredited bodies may be listed on a Government website and may be able to use a logo.

At the time of the DER briefing to the ECA committee, the ECA committee raised the following key points:

  • The ECA would be supportive of any initiative that ensured a high standard of technical work and associated documentation by environmental practitioners, but did not place an unreasonable commercial or administrative burden on our members;
  • The ECA suggested that any scheme should not be exclusive by selecting a single professional accreditation body, but rather allow flexibility to enable the development and offering of more than one professional accreditation body option in WA; and
  • The ECA wanted to be involved in any further consultation on this initiative, particularly if there was a draft scheme for review.

It was also highlighted to the DER representatives that the ECA had recently developed its specialist service category to acknowledge specialist skill sets within our members with the necessary specific supporting experience, which was required to be specifically demonstrated as part of seeking acknowledgement of any specialist service categories.

More recent communication with the DER representatives indicates that an initial briefing paper is in the process of being provided to HEPA, although the timing for this had not been finalised at this stage. It is expected that there will be opportunities for further industry consultation and comment in 2017, and the ECA will be keeping a watching brief on the initiative. While the ECA committee sees limited merit in developing a new professional certification scheme, based on our discussions with DER there would seem to be opportunities with our existing membership processes and there might be potential to meet the professional certification requirements with minor additions or variations to this process should the accreditation initiative progress further in Western Australia.

We will be actively continuing to represent the best interests of our members on this matter, and as indicated above see this as a key activity area going into 2017. Should you have any queries on the above, or would like to offer your thoughts on this initiative to the ECA committee to use in any further consultation with DER, please do not hesitate to make initial contact via Email and a committee member can respond or make direct contact with you. Should this initiative progress we will look into the possibility a broader briefing to members by the DER in 2017.