In their quest to safeguard 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 this important mission?
Many who leave the Armed Forces are attracted to a career in this field – after all, the role is primarily about inspiring groups of people to take a disciplined approach to avoiding life-threatening and harmful situations, which means it can really suit them.
These days, health and safety roles often include an environmental remit, so those working in such areas are typically referred to as HSE (or SHE) officers for short. HSE officers use their skills and knowledge to promote a positive HSE culture, ensuring that both employers and employees abide by safety legislation, and that safety policies and practices are adopted and observed. They play a vital role in preventing and controlling operational losses and occupational health problems, as well as accidents and injuries.
HSE roles have now moved several steps away from reactive, accident-based management and towards a more preventative approach (as demonstrated in the list of NEBOSH certificates and diplomas in the ‘Get qualified!’ section below).
HSE 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 HSE 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.
Many jobs in the HSE field are general or don’t fit into a specific area. For instance, product safety consultants help to make sure products meet necessary standards before reaching the marketplace. Other possible careers include work as a marine surveyor, cargo surveyor, petroleum inspector, compliance investigator, or insurance claims and insurance analyst. You could also work as a safety director, technician or engineer.
The law requires employers to appoint ‘competent’ people with responsibility for HSE matters, 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 HSE. A breach of HSE law is a criminal offence that can result in fines, imprisonment, or both.
In smaller organisations, the HSE ‘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 HSE 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 HSE 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.
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 HSE at work – you may well be one of them! Indeed, many Service people actively involved in HSE 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 HSE, 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 HSE qualifications (e.g. N/SVQs or NEBOSH awards). There are also courses you could take that are aimed at the potential manager who sees HSE 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).
NEED TO KNOW
Health & Safety Executive – 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 HSE practitioners
National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH) – an independent awarding body for health, safety and environmental management qualifications (universities and other bodies also provide qualifications recognised by IOSH)
WHERE DO HSE PROFESSIONALS WORK?
Common areas of employment include:
chemicals and allied industries
education and training
hospitals and clinics
oil and gas
TRANSFER YOUR SKILLS
The skills and qualities essential for an HSE professional are very likely to be familiar to military people like you:
an eye for detail
systematic approach to work situations
diversity of work environments
good communication skills (for writing reports, or dealing with both employers and employees)
the ability to analyse what went wrong and, importantly, how to put it right.
Websites of large organisations and multinationals
Websites and publications relating to the industry you’re interested in, e.g. construction
National and local media
WHAT’S IT REALLY LIKE?
To get a real idea of what it’s like to transition from the Armed Forces to an HSE role, take a look at the following reports from former Service personnel who studied with NEBOSH and did just that:
Darren Culshaw, Health, Safety and Security Manager, Royal Yacht Britannia, former Royal Navy
Adam King, Head of SHEQ, Renewi, former Royal Marine
Mark Stevens, Health and Safety Advisor, The Building Safety Group, former Royal Engineer
Mark Richardson, Health and Safety Manager, Vue Entertainment, Army Reservist
To become an HSE 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 HSE practitioners need a basic core of knowledge in order to practise effectively. If you are new to HSE, 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 for Supervisors 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. N/SVQ level 3 is equivalent to a NEBOSH Certificate (level 3) recognised by IOSH for TechIOSH membership. Other NVQs are at level 5, while the NEBOSH Diploma is at level 6 and is recognised for GradIOSH membership. NEBOSH Certificates can be achieved in two weeks, however the Diploma takes longer to achieve (it can be done in a year but may take longer).
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 HSE-related role in the construction industry; this qualification will give you the essential knowledge to manage health and safety.
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.
Seen as 'the' qualification for aspiring HSE management professionals
Membership of the IOSH is seen as essential by those HSE 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 Managing Safely course. You can find out more on its website.
Scientific, engineering or technical degrees, HNDs, HNCs, National Diplomas and National Certificates are particularly appropriate for HSE roles. There are also postgraduate qualifications in HSE, with particular emphasis on occupational, environmental and hygiene aspects. Some universities have MSc distance learning programmes that focus on HSE and can lead to corporate membership of the IOSH (see above) within a year. Training can be expensive, but there is financial help available.
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 and is at level 3 or above. For full details of how to make the most of your ELC, refer to the in-depth features elsewhere on this website.
NEBOSH OPEN-BOOK EXAMS
NEBOSH has adopted a new approach to enable its learners to carry out their assessments from a location of their choice. Its National and International General Certificates were the first qualifications to offer remote assessment, and open-book exams have been taking place since August 2020. An open-book examination enables learners to take exams in a safe location of their choosing. The approach also has the added benefit of enabling people in even more countries around the world to study towards and gain a NEBOSH qualification.
Unlike invigilated paper-based exams, NEBOSH’s open-book examinations present learners with a real-life scenario followed by a related series of questions that require them to demonstrate the application of their skills.
Further information, including a selection of guidance and support resources, is available here.
Finding a job
As noted above, most HSE 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 HSE 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 HSE advisers to have training qualifications, and to be able to assess the need for, design and deliver safety training.
The Health & Safety Executive 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.
HEALTH & SAFETY APPRENTICESHIPS Opportunities available in this sector include the Health, Safety and Environment Technician apprenticeship. Alternatively, use your favourite search engine to discover more options. Or browse the government’s apprenticeship website or Find Apprenticeships, both of which allow you to search for apprenticeship opportunities by area of interest and location.
Chief Petty Officer Mark Campbell case study - Click here
To view our full list of Health & Safety courses - Click here
Environmental management is key to a successful and sustainable future. The new NEBOSH Environmental Management Certificate…
Spotlight on safety consultancy
Stuart Gilkinson CMIOSH is a chartered health and safety professional and managing director of Dorset Health and Safety Ltd (DHS). Here he describes the responsibilities of safety consultants in the health…