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Health and Safety in the Construction Industry

Health and Safety in the Construction Industry


03 Apr, 2024

Do you have what it takes to join today’s health and safety professionals playing a vitally important role on-site?

How does health and safety fit into the construction industry?

In the construction industry, the emphasis on health and safety is both critical and complex, focusing on a proactive and preventative approach to reduce injuries, accidents, and equipment failures. Special attention is given to combating ill health, including occupational cancers, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), and work-related upper limb disorders (ULDs)—conditions affecting the hand, wrist, arm, shoulder, and neck. These health issues not only impair workers' well-being and productivity but also lead to significant societal and economic impacts due to lost workdays and the need for medical interventions.

Construction stands out as an industry where health and safety are particularly crucial due to the inherently high risks involved. Despite efforts to improve workplace safety, the sector continues to experience a concerning number of fatalities and work-related health issues. For instance, in recent years, the industry has seen a fluctuation in the number of fatalities, indicating ongoing challenges in fully securing worker safety. The dynamic nature of construction work, characterized by constant changes in tasks and work phases, exposes workers to a variety of hazards, including moving objects, construction vehicles, lifting equipment, and uneven terrain. Exposure to hazardous substances, noise, and vibration further complicates the health and safety landscape. The risk of trips, slips, and falls is exacerbated by uneven ground surfaces, underscoring the need for rigorous safety measures.

For individuals transitioning from the Armed Forces into civilian roles, the construction industry offers a unique opportunity to apply their discipline, strategic planning, and risk management skills. The Armed Forces instill a strong foundation in assessing risks and implementing safety protocols, qualities that are directly applicable and highly valued in construction health and safety roles. Veterans can leverage their experience to contribute to creating safer work environments, addressing the sector's critical need for skilled health and safety professionals. Their background in handling complex, high-risk situations equips them with the insights necessary to navigate the construction industry's safety challenges effectively.

What are the main problems?

In the realm of construction, a sector known for its inherent risks and high-hazard environments, the challenges of maintaining health and safety are considerable. This holds true across all types of construction activities, including roadworks, demolition, building, and refurbishment. The risks encountered on construction sites vastly differ from those in less hazardous workplaces, such as offices or retail spaces, necessitating a rigorous approach to safety management.

The primary risks in construction stem from the inherently dangerous nature of the work, the physical demands placed on workers, and the long-term development of occupational injuries and health conditions. These include, but are not limited to, falls from height, being struck by moving vehicles or machinery, electrical hazards, exposure to harmful substances, and noise and vibration-related issues. Such conditions not only pose immediate threats to physical well-being but can also lead to chronic health issues, underscoring the need for a proactive and preventive focus on workplace safety.

Effective risk management is essential in addressing these challenges, requiring adherence to guidelines and recommendations set forth by regulatory bodies like the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK. This encompasses conducting regular and thorough risk assessments, developing method statements for specific tasks, and maintaining diligent monitoring and reporting practices. These steps are critical for minimizing the occurrence of injuries and fatalities, as well as ensuring the overarching health and safety of all site personnel.

What are the main roles in construction health and safety?

In the construction industry, health and safety roles are pivotal in ensuring the welfare and protection of all personnel involved in construction activities. These roles have evolved to not only focus on traditional safety practices but also include environmental considerations, leading to the common designations of HSE (Health, Safety, Environment) or SHE (Safety, Health, Environment) officers. These professionals are integral to fostering a culture of safety on construction sites, ensuring adherence to safety legislation, and implementing effective safety policies and practices. Their work is essential in preventing accidents, injuries, and occupational health issues, thereby reducing operational losses. The trend in health and safety management has shifted towards a proactive, preventative strategy, significantly influenced by courses like NEBOSH’s Working with Wellbeing, which emphasizes the importance of promoting overall well-being in the workplace.

HSE advisers and managers are responsible for the strategic planning, execution, and ongoing evaluation of safety measures within construction projects. Their role is crucial in minimizing the occurrence of accidents and health problems, which involves regular risk assessments, developing safety protocols, and ensuring continuous monitoring and reporting. Legally, employers are required to appoint individuals who are 'competent' in HSE matters, a criterion that encompasses the necessary experience, training, and knowledge to effectively manage and mitigate risks associated with construction work.

The scope of the 'competent' person's role can vary depending on the size of the organization. In smaller companies, this role may be part of a broader set of responsibilities, indicating the versatility required in managing HSE matters. Conversely, larger organizations often rely on dedicated specialists or consultancy services to address their health and safety needs comprehensively. For individuals transitioning from fields such as the armed forces, where skills in discipline, risk management, and strategic planning are emphasized, a career in construction health and safety offers a rewarding opportunity to apply these competencies in a civilian context. The ability to anticipate, identify, and mitigate risks in construction settings is invaluable, making veterans well-suited for roles in ensuring workplace safety and health.

The Day Job

Pursuing a career as an HSE manager or adviser in the construction sector means stepping into a role that is both vital and varied. The core of your job revolves around safeguarding the health and safety of workers, which involves developing and enforcing health and safety procedures and method statements aligned with national safety legislation. In the dynamic environment of construction, you'll address a wide range of issues from occupational health, noise control, machinery safety, to the management of hazardous substances.

Your day-to-day responsibilities are diverse, encompassing:

  • Conducting thorough inspections and risk assessments to identify potential hazards and devising strategies to mitigate these risks.
  • Investigating accidents to determine their causes and recommending corrective actions to prevent future incidents.
  • Maintaining detailed records of accidents, inspection findings, and any corrective measures taken.
  • Writing comprehensive reports to highlight findings and suggest improvements to health and safety practices.
  • Advising on the use of protective clothing and safety equipment to ensure worker safety.
  • Overseeing the safe installation and maintenance of equipment on-site.
  • Managing the safe disposal of hazardous materials, such as asbestos, in compliance with environmental and health regulations.
  • Providing essential training on HSE issues and risks to both management and employees, fostering a culture of safety awareness.
  • Keeping abreast of legal and regulatory changes affecting health and safety in the construction industry.
  • Initiating and leading health and safety campaigns to raise awareness and promote best practices within the organization.
  • Handling budgetary aspects related to health and safety measures, ensuring resources are allocated effectively to address safety concerns.

The nature of this role means that no two days are identical. You might find yourself on-site, directly addressing safety concerns one day, and the next day you could be in the office, planning strategic safety initiatives or attending meetings to report on safety performance. This role may also require attending board meetings to discuss health and safety performance and strategies or meeting with auditors to ensure compliance with health and safety regulations. A clean driving license is essential, as the job often involves travel between different construction sites to oversee safety protocols and conduct inspections.

For individuals transitioning from the armed forces, this career path offers a rewarding opportunity to apply disciplined, strategic planning and risk assessment skills acquired during military service. The ability to adapt to changing environments, lead by example, and communicate effectively are qualities that resonate well within the construction health and safety domain, making veterans well-suited for these roles.

Transferable skills

Veterans from the Armed Forces possess a unique set of skills that are highly transferable to a career in health and safety within the construction industry. Their experience in working within hazardous environments and handling dangerous equipment positions them exceptionally well for roles in Health, Safety, and Environment (HSE). Many service members have been directly involved in HSE tasks, perhaps without formally recognizing this experience as relevant to civilian HSE roles.

The Armed Forces provide structured training courses in HSE, often leading to recognized qualifications. Service personnel may have had the opportunity to earn certifications such as N/SVQs or NEBOSH qualifications while still in service. Additionally, there are specific courses tailored for those looking to transition into HSE management or specialize further in the field. The IOSH Certificate in Managing Safely and the NEBOSH Health and Safety at Work Award are designed for individuals aiming to incorporate HSE responsibilities into their managerial roles. For those seeking to delve deeper into health and safety, the NEBOSH National General Certificate offers foundational knowledge essential for any full-time health and safety position, while the NEBOSH Construction Certificate is particularly relevant for those focusing on the construction industry.

Beyond formal qualifications, the skills developed in the military—such as leadership, risk assessment, strategic planning, and adaptability—are invaluable in the construction health and safety sector. The ability to analyze situations, make decisive actions under pressure, and communicate effectively across various levels of an organization are qualities that align well with the demands of HSE roles. Veterans are often adept at fostering teamwork and compliance, ensuring that safety protocols are followed diligently.

How do I qualify to work in construction H&S?

Qualifying to work in construction health and safety (H&S) is a multifaceted process that offers several pathways, catering to individuals with varying levels of experience and backgrounds, including those transitioning from military service. To embark on a career as an HSE adviser in the construction sector, you have the option of pursuing health and safety qualifications either while in employment or before entering the workforce, potentially leveraging training opportunities available during military service.

For newcomers to HSE, starting with an introductory course is advisable. These courses lay the foundational knowledge in health and safety practices, workplace regulations, risk assessment techniques, and basic principles of accident investigation. Available in part-time formats or through online and distance learning, these courses make learning flexible and accessible. Utilizing Enhanced Learning Credits (ELC), service leavers can enroll in courses such as:

  • 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

NVQs/SVQs at levels 3 and 4 in occupational health and safety practice offer valuable career opportunities and are recognized pathways for those aiming to deepen their expertise in H&S. For those seeking more advanced recognition, the NEBOSH Diploma is esteemed and facilitates GradIOSH membership. While NEBOSH Certificates can be completed in a relatively short period (around two weeks), the Diploma requires a more extended commitment, often completed within a year or more, depending on the study mode.

For training below the level 3 threshold, leveraging Standard Learning Credits (SLC) might be an option. For example, the Level 2 Award in Health and Safety in the Workplace provides essential H&S knowledge, while the Level 1 Award in Health and Safety in a Construction Environment is particularly suited for those aiming to enter HSE roles within the construction industry. Holding this qualification enables you to take the CITB Health, Safety and Environment Test, further allowing you to apply for the Construction Skills Certificate Scheme (CSCS) Green Card, a crucial credential for working on UK construction sites.

As your skills and responsibilities in the field of construction health and safety grow, advancing to higher-level qualifications will become necessary. Continuous professional development is key to progressing as a full-time health and safety adviser or manager, ensuring that you stay updated with the latest industry standards, practices, and regulations.


    The NEBOSH National Diploma for Occupational Health and Safety Management Professionals remains a premier qualification for those aspiring to become leaders in health and safety. It equips students with a comprehensive understanding of occupational health and safety principles, strategies, and practices. While holding the NEBOSH National General Certificate is not a prerequisite for enrolling in the Diploma program, it is strongly recommended to solidify one's foundational knowledge in health and safety.

    NEBOSH offers a variety of courses tailored to different aspects of health and safety, including:

    • National Diploma for Occupational Health and Safety Management Professionals: A comprehensive qualification for aspiring health and safety professionals.
    • International Diploma for Occupational Health and Safety Management Professionals: Similar to the National Diploma but with a global perspective on health and safety practices.
    • National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety: Offers a solid foundation in health and safety principles.
    • International General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety: Focuses on global health and safety standards and practices.
    • Health and Safety Management for Construction (UK) Certificate: Tailored specifically for the construction industry in the UK, aligning with the Construction Design and Management (CDM) Regulations.
    • Health and Safety Management for Construction (International) Certificate: Provides an international perspective on construction health and safety management.
    • These courses are designed to meet the needs of health and safety professionals at various stages of their careers, from foundational knowledge to advanced expertise.

    For NEBOSH contact details, see ‘Useful info’.

    Other qualifications

    For those pursuing careers in health and safety within the construction sector, a background in scientific, engineering, or technical fields can be highly beneficial. Higher National Diplomas (HNDs), Higher National Certificates (HNCs), National Diplomas, and National Certificates offer valuable technical knowledge that complements health and safety expertise. Additionally, postgraduate qualifications in health and safety, emphasizing occupational, environmental, and hygiene aspects, can further enhance one's credentials. Many universities offer Master of Science (MSc) programs in health and safety through distance learning, which can lead to chartered membership of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) within a year, provided other membership criteria are met. Both NEBOSH Diplomas and certain NVQs are recognized pathways towards achieving IOSH chartered membership status.

    While training and education in this field can represent a significant investment, financial assistance is often available through various schemes, making it accessible for those committed to advancing their careers in health and safety.



    There are numerous areas of risk on a construction site, including the following:

    • electricity
    • equipment and tools
    • getting trapped
    • hand and vibration syndrome (HAVS)
    • other vibration-related injury
    • harmful dust and toxic materials 
    • long-term musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)
    • work-related upper limb disorders (ULDs)
    • occupational cancers
    • manual handling injury
    • moving vehicles
    • noise
    • objects falling from height
    • on-site activity leading to lifelong disability
    • potential for sensory loss
    • risk of building or ground collapse
    • working at height.


    Here’s where to find out more about the H&S qualifications that count …


    The skills and qualities essential for an HSE professional are very likely to be familiar to military people like you:

    • self-confidence
    • 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 both employers and employees)
    • flexibility
    • wide-ranging responsibilities
    • the ability to analyse what went wrong and, importantly, how to put it right.


    • IOSH Jobs
    • HSE Network
    • SHP4Jobs
    • IOSH Magazine
    • Other major online job sites and recruitment agencies
    • Websites of large organisations and multinationals
    • Websites and publications relating to the industry in which you’re interested – in this case, construction
    • National and local media
    Opportunities available in this sector include the Health, Safety and Environment Technician apprenticeship. Use your favourite search engine to find out what else is out there, or click here to browse options near you

    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 ELCAS 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 the Quest website

    Finding a job

    Securing a position in construction health and safety typically begins with acquiring relevant qualifications, with many employers now preferring candidates with degree-level education. However, the leadership, discipline, and strategic planning skills developed in the armed forces are also highly valued in this field. Emphasizing these skills, alongside technical knowledge in health and safety, can significantly enhance your job prospects.

    Continuous professional development is key to standing out in the job market. Joining professional bodies such as IOSH or IIRSM and obtaining specialized training in areas like manual handling and first aid can make you more attractive to potential employers. Construction health and safety roles vary, from positions in small companies to larger organizations with dedicated safety teams, requiring skills in risk assessment, safety procedure development, and the ability to deliver safety training effectively.

    Leverage military-acquired skills and focus on specialized health and safety training to navigate the job search successfully in the construction industry. Engage with professional networks and explore dedicated job platforms for health and safety roles to find opportunities that align with your expertise and aspirations. With the right approach and qualifications, transitioning military personnel can find rewarding careers in construction health and safety, contributing significantly to workplace safety and compliance.