Health and Safety
In their quest to protect the working population today’s health and safety professionals take a proactive, preventative approach to problems such as injury accidents and equipment failure. Perhaps you have what it takes to join them in their important mission?
Workplace health and safety (H&S) officers use their skills and knowledge to promote a positive H&S culture, ensuring that both employers and employees abide by safety legislation, and that safety policies and practices are adopted and observed. H&S officers play a vital role in preventing and controlling operational losses and occupational health problems, as well as accidents and injuries. These days, H&S has moved several steps away from reactive, accident-based management and towards a more preventative approach, as highlighted by NEBOSH’s Certificate in the Management of Health and Well-being at Work.
NEBOSH Certificate in the Management of Health and Well-being at Work
For the skills and knowledge to tackle health and well-being at work
H&S officers (or advisers) are based in a huge range of organisations – from small consultancies to multinational firms – and work together with many different people, from employees and employers to trades unions and directors. As an H&S officer, you will help to plan, implement, monitor and review the preventative and protective measures that companies are required, or choose, to follow, and work to minimise accidents and injuries, occupational health problems and operational losses.
The law calls for employers to appoint ‘competent’ people with responsibility for H&S, irrespective of the size of the organisation or the field in which it operates. A ‘competent’ person is somebody with the necessary experience, training, knowledge and/or other qualities to undertake the role, particularly risk assessment. Because organisations are obliged by law to employ such a person, training and experience are legal requirements for the management of H&S. A breach of H&S law is a criminal offence that can result in fines, imprisonment, or both.
In smaller organisations, the H&S ‘competent’ person function might form one part of a wider role, with the individual concerned responsible for it as part of their job while having other responsibilities too. Larger organisations will employ a specialist (or specialists), or use a consultancy.
The day job
So, if you are thinking of a career as an H&S officer or adviser, what are you likely to find yourself doing on a day-to-day basis?
As your aim is to prevent health problems, accidents and injuries at work, part of your role will call for you to draw up health and safety policies, and make sure that both the employees and employers stick to them, as well as following national safety legislation. Depending on the kind of organisation you are working in, your role could cover areas such as occupational health, noise, safe use of machinery, fire safety and control of hazardous substances.
Your other key tasks might include:
- carrying out inspections and risk assessments, and thinking about how risks could be reduced
- investigating accidents and recommending improvements to safety standards
- keeping records of accidents and inspection findings
- writing reports to suggest improvements
- advising on protective clothing and safety equipment
- ensuring equipment is safely installed
- organising safe disposal of hazardous substances (e.g. asbestos)
- providing training (to both managers and employees) in H&S issues and risks
- staying up to date with changes in the law.
On an average day, you will probably also be required to wear protective clothing like overalls, ear defenders and safety glasses. You will also need a clean driving licence if your job calls for you to travel between sites.
NEBOSH National General Certificate
The essential first step to a career in H&S
Skill up while serving
It almost goes without saying that most Service people work for at least some of the time in potentially hazardous environments or with dangerous equipment, or both. Across all branches and trades there are those with practical experience and awareness of H&S at work – you may well be one of them! Indeed, many Service people actively involved in H&S work may not even recognise that is what they are doing, or might consider it a relatively unimportant part of their job.
Forces-run modular training courses in H&S, leading to a certificate, offer an opportunity to gain relevant qualifications while you are still serving. You may currently be in a post that enables you to gain significant H&S qualifications (e.g. N/SVQs or NEBOSH awards). There are also courses you could take that are aimed at the potential manager who sees H&S as part of a job description (e.g. the IOSH Certificate in Managing Safely) or the person looking to specialise in this field (e.g. the NEBOSH National General Certificate, seen as the essential minimum qualification for any full-time health and safety job).
WHERE DO H&S PROFESSIONALS WORK?
Common areas of employment include:
- chemicals and allied industries
- education and training
- hospitals and clinics
- local government
- oil and gas
TRANSLATE YOUR SKILLS
The skills and qualities essential for an H&S professional are very likely to be familiar to military people like you:
- an eye for detail
- problem-solving skills
- systematic approach to work situations
- diversity of work environments
- good communication skills (for writing reports or dealing with employers)
- wide-ranging responsibilities
- the ability to analyse what went wrong and, importantly, how to put it right.
NEED TO KNOW
- Health and Safety Executive (HSE) – the government body that ensures risks to health and safety from work situations are properly controlled
- Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) – the professional body for H&S practitioners
- National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH) – an independent awarding body for H&S qualifications (universities and other bodies also provide qualifications recognised by IOSH)
FIND JOB VACANCIES AT …
- HealthandSafety-Jobs www.healthandsafety-jobs.co.uk
- Safety and Health Practitioner (magazine of the IOSH) www.shponline.co.uk
- Major online job sites and recruitment agencies
- Websites of large organisations and multinationals
- Websites and publications relating to the industry you’re interested in, e.g. construction
- National and local media
To become an H&S adviser, you can either study for health and safety qualifications once you already have a job, or take a relevant training course before you look for a trainee position. The type of training you choose will depend on the industry you work in, or wish to work in. All workplace H&S practitioners need a basic core of knowledge in order to practise effectively. If you are new to H&S, you can start by taking an introductory course that covers the basics (health and safety in the workplace, regulations, risk assessment and basic accident investigation). Courses are usually available on a part-time basis or can be done via online and distance learning. Courses for which you could use your ELC include:
- level 3 Award in Health and Safety in the Workplace
- level 3 (NVQ) Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety
- National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety.
In particular, N/SVQs at levels 3 and 4 in occupational health and safety practice will provide you with good career opportunities. Recognised by the IOSH as being equivalent to the NEBOSH National Diploma, each takes approximately a year to achieve.
ELC and SLC cannot be used together but, if you’re looking to use your SLC for training that is below the level 3 threshold, you might want to consider, say, the level 2 Award in Health and Safety in the Workplace, which provides essential knowledge and understanding of health and safety in the workplace. There is also a level 1 Award in Health and Safety in a Construction Environment, if you are looking to work in a H&S-related role in the construction industry; this qualification will give you the essential knowledge to manage health and safety, and holding it will also allow you to take your CITB test and apply for your CSCS card.
To work as a full-time health and safety officer, you may need a higher level of qualification approved by the IOSH (see below). You can progress to more advanced qualifications as your skills develop and your level of responsibility grows.
The NEBOSH National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety is seen as the qualification for aspiring H&S professionals, designed to provide students with the expertise required to undertake a career as a safety and health practitioner. It assumes prior learning equivalent to the National General Certificate.
NEBOSH also offers the following H&S-related courses:
- National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety
- International Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety
- Diploma in Environmental Management (level 6)
- National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety (level 3)
- Fire Safety and Risk Management Certificate
- National Certificate in Construction Health and Safety (level 3)
- International General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety
- National Certificate in Environmental Management
- National Certificate in the Management of Health and Well-being at Work
- International Certificate in Construction Health and Safety
- International Technical Certificate in Oil and Gas Operational Safety.
Membership of the IOSH is seen as essential by most H&S professionals who are beyond ‘competent’ person status and specialists in their field. Membership grades depend on a combination of qualifications, experience and achievement. The IOSH also runs a series of courses that promote a culture of safe working, such as its modular Managing Safely course. You can find out more on its website (see ‘Key contacts’).
Scientific, engineering or technical degrees, HNDs, HNCs, National Diplomas and National Certificates are particularly appropriate for H&S. There are also postgraduate qualifications in H&S, with particular emphasis on occupational, environmental and hygiene aspects. Some universities have MSc distance learning programmes that focus on H&S and can lead to corporate membership of the IOSH (see above) within a year. Training can be expensive, but there is financial help available (see ‘Factfile’).
Use your ELC
Under the ELC scheme, a wide range of learning can be taken, provided it is offered by an approved provider listed on the ELC website at www.enhancedlearningcredits.com and is at level 3 or above.
As noted above, most H&S officers/advisers get into this role by either completing a qualification and then looking for work or studying while working. Note, though, that it is becoming more common for advisers to enter the profession with a degree-level qualification. Some good advice is that employers tend to favour job applicants who have good people management and interpersonal skills. Health and safety professionals should also keep their skills up to date. And, if you can bring a range of additional skills – such as being able to provide in-house training in areas like manual handling or first aid – that’s another benefit as far as employers are concerned. In addition, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations outline the legal requirements for safety management issues and, if anything, this increases the need for companies to employ ‘competent’ persons themselves, as opposed to dealing with safety issues via consultants.
Jobs range from a small company employing an individual to a major organisation that has an entire safety team. Some companies specialise in H&S issues such as planning supervision, safety audits, engineering surveying and insurance company safety assessments. Facilities management is another sector where employment possibilities are enhanced by a safety qualification. As noted above, many employers look for H&S advisers to have training qualifications, and to be able to assess the need for, design and deliver safety training.
The HSE employs inspectors and other staff through an online recruitment process. Trainees will usually spend their first two years training in the Field Operations Directorate. After that, some may be deployed into the Hazardous Installations Directorate to meet business needs or for personal development.
What can you earn?
Note: the following figures are intended as a guideline only.
Salaries vary widely depending on role and responsibilities, location and type of company. They can range from £22,000 to £35,000 a year, again depending on the exact role. The current average salary for H&S professionals with up to four years’ experience is £30,811, rising to £37,671 for those with up to nine years’ experience. H&S trainers are also well paid by today’s standards. A NEBOSH National Diploma holder could earn £25,000-plus per year, depending on experience and managerial responsibility. With experience and more responsibility, senior H&S advisers could earn £50,000 or more.