Those working as part of the Australian National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout are required to undertake a range of important work health and safety (WHS) courses as part of their employment.

While traditional delivery of this training has supported the NBN for a number of years, industry developments have led to growing demand for a new solution. As the NBN rollout reaches further into regional and remote areas of Australia, arranging instructor-led training has become increasingly difficult.

Partnering with the NBN Co, AlertForce has created an online alternative to face-to-face safety and awareness training. This offering has already experienced a significant uptake, and is expected to influence the adoption of blended learning across a range of WHS training initiatives.

This white paper will provide insight into the events and choices that led to the launch of the AlertForce NBN Safety and Awareness online training program. Additionally, the paper will outline the key benefits of this course and investigate the program’s potential into the future.

The history of the NBN and occupational health and safety (OHS)

In 2002, the Howard government created the Broadband Advisory Group in an effort to address the idea of creating a national broadband framework. In a report released on January 22, 2003, the group recommended the government work with state institutions and industry stakeholders to create the National Broadband Network (NBN).

From that point, plans and proposals were put in place to replace the “increasingly obsolete” copper network with a fixed-line and wireless fibre-based broadband framework. It was not until 2009, with the creation of the NBN Co, that the project began to experience real traction. A trial rollout was actioned in Tasmania in 2010, followed by a selection of mainland sites.

Throughout the rollout, the NBN Co was committed to improving health and safety outcomes for employees and the community – a core value of the NBN Co.

In order to achieve the organisation’s extensive WHS aspirations and discharge its duty as an employer, the company decided to develop the NBN safety and awareness course as a generic induction for people working in the field.

Course materials were developed in-house and licenced out to registered training organisations (RTOs) across the country.

The NBN Co entered a licencing agreement with those organisations, provided them with the course materials and any support that they needed. Then, when it comes time for delivery, the training providers arrange the commercials and the scheduling with NBN contractors.

One of the organisations chosen to deliver the instructor-led course was leading OHS training provider, AlertForce. The partnership between AlertForce and the NBN Co was forged through a demand for asbestos awareness and removal training for Telstra contractors working on the NBN network.

In mid 2013, after several instances of contractor non-compliance with Telstra’s asbestos handling practices, Telstra reviewed and altered its training and licensing requirements for contractors undertaking pit remediation work in preparation for the NBN roll-out. Telstra determined that all contractors undertaking work with asbestos were required to hold non-friable asbestos removal licences and that workers engaged by these contractors needed to hold the necessary VET competencies to undertake this work. To address this, Telstra called on AlertForce to provide training in asbestos awareness and removal for its employees and contractors.

“This basically caused a huge wave with Telstra contractors who were also required to get trained. During this process we pretty much trained most Telstra NBN contractors and sub-contractors undertaking asbestos removal as part of the pit remediation program,” AlertForce Chief Executive Officer Brendan Torazzi.

Through this process, AlertForce developed a relationship with the staff at NBN. This meant that when the NBN Co called for expressions of interest to develop an online version of the face-to-face NBN safety and awareness course, AlertForce quickly responded and its offer was shortly accepted.

The introduction of the online NBN Safety and Awareness Course

As the NBN rollout reached further into Australia, training providers were finding it more difficult to arrange the two-day mandatory instructor-led course. Many of the employees working on the project lived in regional or remote areas and were unable or unwilling to travel to other areas to undertake the program.

A lot of feedback from the industry focussed on accessibility. It was becoming difficult to service regional and remote contractors and workers with the face-to-face training course and many individuals indicated they were not particularly interested in spending the time or money to travel to metropolitan areas to access training.

AlertForce received approval to design and launch the online program in January 2014. Teams of people worked approximately 800 hours production time over a three month period, releasing the online NBN Safety and Awareness course in April.

Within the first month, close to 400 people accessed the online training program, within similar numbers also seen in May. The success of the launch was also underpinned by AlertForce winning gold at the 2014 LearnX awards in the OHS category.

“As soon as it was launched, it took off. The market just embraced it because it was a good alternative to having to get staff trained in a face-to-face environment,” Mr Torazzi explained.

Through the NBN safety and awareness course, students are trained in a range of relevant OHS competencies, including the identification and assessment of industry hazards, risk control measures and Health, Safety & Environmental (HSE) incident and hazard reporting.

Additionally, there is an element of NBN awareness training to ensure workers in this field understand their role in the development and integration of the country’s broadband framework.

What are the benefits of this online offering?

Moving the NBN Safety and Awareness course online has offered the industry a number of key benefits. While it was becoming difficult to provide remote and regional contractors and workers with this training, the online program offers a blended learning solution to this issue.

As the NBN Co works to bring all of Australia online, providers have begun to embrace online training as a valid way of learning. It provides scope for mandatory training outcomes across multiple locations.

Of course, with the training’s extended reach, the NBN benefits from an increasing number of job-ready contractors and employees in the areas it is servicing. Furthermore, these individuals gain access to the skills and knowledge they need to work safely on these projects, improving industry-wide OHS outcomes.

With this online training program, the NBN is able to more effectively and safely connect regional and rural locations, while providing employees with the understanding of their role is this important connection initiative.

How far can online training take OHS outcomes?

As stakeholders in the telecommunications industry, and other sectors, take notice of the success of the NBN safety and awareness online offering, AlertForce forecasts an increased demand for other internet-based training.

Already, AlertForce has received interest from government bodies and federal agencies asking for increased online training options. As the bulk of people have already completed programs in a number of areas, it has become increasingly difficult to get certain courses up and running. This shows that there is extensive market demand for online training, which should influence wider adoption of these methods and delivery systems.

Once more courses head online, more regional and remote employees will be able to access important OHS training. This should result in improve health and safety outcomes across many industries Australia-wide.

However, there are some limitations as some aspects of OHS training that cannot be moved online. For instance, those undertaking the NBN Safety and Awareness course must still undergo face-to-face assessments, such as for the CPR component. Blended learning solutions are therefore required to take online training from a simply induction and theory course into the line of comprehensive OHS training.

Practically any course could adopt an online element, enabling individuals from all walks of life to access relevant training. This is particularly relevant when considering the objective of the NBN project – to ensure Australians from all areas, no matter how remote, have access to fast and reliable internet.

Accessing the NBN Safety and Awareness course

As the NBN Safety and Awareness course is a mandatory training program for any person undertaking certain tasks within the function of the NBN rollout, the ability to access this course is extremely important.

With AlertForce’s online training offering, individuals from all across Australia can take part in this vital program to ensure they hold the required skills and knowledge to achieve safe working outcomes.

For more information on the online NBN Safety and Awareness program, or to access the training for yourself, speak with the team at AlertForce today.