How collaboration took the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) from zero to hero in less than a week

The start of the pandemic lockdown in the UK in March 2020 presented the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) – The Chartered Society for Worker Health Protection – with a very big problem.  And with lockdowns and restrictions coming into force the world over, that problem was only going to get bigger.

Critical qualifications for critical workers

As the definitive voice of occupational hygiene in the UK, and a professional body responsible for providing internationally recognised qualifications, BOHS works with training providers in 17 different countries to deliver courses and critical qualifications that help to protect people from health hazards in the workplace.

BOHS qualifications cover areas such as asbestos, legionella and local exhaust ventilation systems, meaning that training and qualification is mandatory for employees working in roles where these are a risk. So, courses and exams couldn’t stop for COVID, or people couldn’t go to work – including key workers.

With a paper-based system used for in-person exams internationally, BOHS had to move incredibly quickly when the pandemic took hold to ensure that examinees could continue to work in their chosen professions. A transition to online exams was needed, and fast.

Early collaboration to find common ground

When lockdowns and restrictions struck, candidates of training providers working with BOHS had to be looked after and reassured that their qualification assessment would still be going ahead. 

With no immediate clarity about how lockdowns were going to work in all the different countries affected, the first collaboration piece undertaken by BOSH was to call training providers, listen to what their specific situation was and understand how it differed to others.  The aim was to try to find common ground and a system that would serve everyone.

The second piece of collaboration came when BOHS contacted evasys, the UK supplier of digital assessment tool evaexam.  After a full and frank discussion around the immediate challenge and the pressing need to very quickly find and implement a solution to enable digital examinations, evasys came on board as a vendor partner with the singular aim of getting BOHS to where they needed to be as quickly as possible.

High stakes means high speed

BOHS exams are high stakes in that they are a necessity to allow people to work.  An example of this would be an occupational hygiene issue like legionella.  BOHS works with training providers that run legionella programmes and exams for employees working in health care, however, peripheral industries like hospitality needed be taken into account too.  If a hotel had rooms set aside for key workers during lockdown, and if a restaurant, bar or area of the building had to be closed due to suspected legionella, it would need to urgently be made safe for people to return to ensure those key workers were accommodated.

It was imperative that the digital, lockdown-proof solution to facilitating job-critical exams was up and running – and running well – as quickly as possible.

Accelerating the digital process

The impact of preventing people from working is huge, so BOHS and evasys moved fast to start transitioning from paper to online exams, getting the first batch of exams up and running within just a few days.

The rest of the exam suite followed, and a few weeks later every exam offered by BOHS was available digitally.  Not only did this move to digital provide business continuity for BOHS themselves, they also supported other business in multiple countries to continue to trade through an extremely challenging period.  And those businesses, in turn, continued to support their own customers with online learning and assessment that enabled them to continue in their jobs.

Further collaboration to meet challenges

The transformation was not without challenges, however, this is where further collaboration ensured a smooth transition moving from paper to online exams.

The first collaboration was around exam questions themselves, and BOHS consulted with their internal team, external training providers and evasys to nail down the optimal route to digitising some of the trickier questions. 

One example was around local extraction ventilation units; in paper exams, candidates would simply be asked to draw a diagram and circle the parts that require testing.  This prompted a four way discussion about how best to facilitate this digitally, with the eventual solution being to show the unit with blank labels and ask candidates to label the parts.  While this may sound fairly straightforward, there were a few quality assurance and technical challenges in getting it right.  Collaboration on this, and other similar questions, ensured that both candidates and markers could take an approach as similar as possible to the paper-based system.

A second point of collaboration around digitising the exam suite was with markers.  It was critical that people used to marking paper-based exams were comfortable with the new, digital tool.  With this in mind, a pilot group of markers were asked to test the system early in the project and come back with any issues or concerns.

There were none.  Feedback was excellent and, in fact, the ability to mark papers “horizontally”, ie, scoring all the question ones, then all the question twos and so forth, provided the extra benefit of increased consistency and fairness, with the model answer being applied across the whole group – standardising the marking process and removing any unconscious bias.

Thirdly, BOHS and evasys collaborated on best practice for ensuring candidates would be comfortable with using a new, online tool for taking exams.  To avoid exacerbating exam nerves with the added stress of how an unknown platform might work, BOHS set up a little quiz on the system to let people log on, test links and be at ease around how evaexam works.

Unexpected benefits

A bonus benefit of moving from paper to online exams that BOHS hadn’t thought of was the collection of data.  With all responses gathered in one place, it’s extremely easy to look at all the answers to one question and compare and contrast in much more detail than could be done before. 

Going back to the example of the extraction ventilation unit diagram, previously BOHS would see a diagram with no data behind it; it would just be a pass mark.  Now, the team can analyse data to understand how easy or difficult the question is and improve the next iteration based on a solid understanding.

Additionally, from a centralised point of view where there are multiple exams running in different time zones, the ability to automate the whole exam process and then review the data gathered in the system provides a top down approach to improvement.  Aggregating data from different exam sessions gives BOHS the overview they need to change processes, iterate and make decisions more efficiently.

Zero to Hero

Overall, the nimble approach that BOHS took to adapting their business model and keeping the show on the road has had a positive impact on many lives.  Training providers partnering with BOHS kept their own businesses operating and, in some cases, have actually grown market share because the digital exam process has given them broader reach.  Candidates taking courses and exams with the training providers had no disruption to their training and qualification, meaning that they could continue to work and earn.  And the team at BOHS itself embraced the challenge, collaborated widely to find a solution and kept it business as usual in a time when other organisations were struggling.

An overnight change from a paper system to a digital one may seem daunting, but BOHS have demonstrated that a collaborative approach, coupled with a can-do attitude, can quickly deliver results that make a difference.

The British Occupational Hygiene Society uses evaexam to offer professional exams digitally to candidates in 17 different countries.  If you would like more information on how evaexam could transform your assessment process, please contact us.

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