Health and Safety Practitioner

The Job and What's Involved

Health and safety practitioners, also known as health and safety officers, managers, advisers or consultants, seek to minimise the risk of harm or injury at work. By educating colleagues and setting procedures to be followed, they aim to build a culture of safety in the workplace.

Their role may involve:

  • Advising managers on how to comply with health and safety laws.
  • Drawing up strategies, policies and procedures for the organisation.
  • Carrying out site visits and safety audits, identifying potential hazards.
  • Designing and delivering training courses on health and safety issues.
  • Investigating accidents and finding ways to prevent them happening again.
  • Advising on specialist areas such as fire precautions and control of hazardous substances.
  • Carrying out fire drills.
  • Producing written reports.
  • Keeping records, including accident statistics.

To achieve a safe working environment, health and safety practitioners need to work closely with managers, employees and sometimes trade unions. They may also liaise with external contacts, such as contractors, clients and the Health and Safety Executive, which inspects workplaces and enforces compliance.

Health and safety practitioners usually work a 37 hour week, 9.00am to 5.00pm, Monday to Friday. Some roles may be required to work more flexibly, for example, to handle a major incident or to train shift workers.

Although mainly office based, the job may involve a lot of site visits, for instance, visiting a factory shop floor, construction sites or offshore oil and gas platforms.

The job can involve working outdoors in all weathers. Practitioners may need to work at height, in cramped conditions or in noisy, dirty or dusty workplaces. Protective clothing may be required.

New entrants may earn between £20,000 and £22,000 a year. More experienced, qualified practitioners earn around £33,700 a year.

Earnings for senior practitioners average at around £42,800 a year. Some highly qualified practitioners may earn much more than this.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Approximately 30,000 people are employed in occupational health and safety. They work within organisations in every sector, including:

- Manufacturing
- Construction
- Local and central government
- Healthcare
- Education
- Energy
- Transport

Consultancy positions are also available.

Job opportunities are growing alongside tighter controls and greater public expectations of safety.

Vacancies are found in local, national and specialist press, and through specialist recruitment agencies and websites such as www.shp4jobs.co.uk and www.healthandsafety-jobs.co.uk.

Education and Training

There are various routes into occupational health and safety management. Some entrants progress from health and safety assistant positions or have prior experience working in risk management, construction, manufacturing, engineering or scientific fields.

It may be possible to do an Advanced Apprenticeship in occupational health and safety, mainly offered by local authorities and councils.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

An increasing number of entrants have a degree, which many employers value. Several foundation degrees in health and safety management and degree courses in occupational safety and health are available. Foundation degree applicants usually need a Level 3 qualification. Students with appropriate work-related experience might also be considered.

Entry to a degree is usually a minimum of two A levels and five GCSE's (A*-C), or equivalent. As entry requirements may vary, candidates are advised to check with individual institutions. Those without the usual qualifications can take an Access course.

The Diplomas in construction and the built environment and environmental and land-based studies may be relevant for this area of work.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Health and safety practitioners require specialist qualifications offered by The National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH) and the British Safety Council (BSC).

New entrants may start with qualifications such as:

  • NVQ Level 3 in occupational health and safety.
  • NEBOSH certificate-level qualifications, including Level 3.
  • National General Certificate in occupational health and safety.
  • BSC Level 3 Certificate in occupational safety and health.

They may progress to more advanced qualifications which reflect specific duties. To work as a health and safety officer, accredited qualifications are required, which include:

  • NVQ Levels 4 and 5 in occupational health and safety practice, which are assessed in the workplace.
  • NEBOSH Level 6 National Diploma in occupational health and safety.
  • BSC Level 6 Diploma in occupational safety and health.

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) accredits both the NEBOSH and BSC qualifications. The Level 3 qualifications meet the academic requirement for IOSH Technician membership (Tech IOSH). Holders of this qualification can also apply for apply for Associate membership of the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management (IIRSM). Graduate IOSH membership and full IIRSM membership is available with a Level 6 qualification.

Specialist training and qualifications relevant to particular jobs are also available, including environmental management, process safety, fire safety and risk management and construction safety.

Several universities offer postgraduate diplomas and Masters in occupational health and safety. Most accept the Level 6 Diplomas as entry qualifications.

IOSH also runs short courses to keep health and safety practitioners informed about changing laws and guidance that affect their sector of work.

Graduate IOSH members can work towards Chartered membership. There are three different Initial Professional Development (IPD) routes, depending on the health and safety qualifications and experience acquired. To progress from Graduate to Chartered Member usually takes two years.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Health and safety practitioners need:

  • Strong interpersonal skills, for negotiating changes in the workplace and influencing others to adopt them.
  • An understanding of health and safety laws and how to interpret them.
  • A sound knowledge of technical and operational processes.
  • The ability to think ahead and anticipate potential problems.
  • Presentation skills, to lead training sessions.
  • An ability to get complex information across in a simple way.
  • A clear writing style.
  • A thorough and methodical approach.
  • Persistence.
  • Patience.
  • Adaptability.
  • Physical fitness, when working outdoors or in major plants.

Your Long Term Prospects

Because health and safety teams are often small, it may be necessary to change jobs to gain promotion.

Health and safety practitioners could progress to department head, specialise in a particular field such as hazardous substances or noise reduction or move into general management. Some become self-employed, working on a consultancy basis.

Experienced practitioners may become health and safety inspectors, scrutinising business premises on behalf of the Health and Safety Executive.

There may be opportunities to work abroad with multinational companies.

Get Further Information

British Safety Council (BSC),
70 Chancellors Road, London W6 9RS
Tel: 020 8741 1231
Website: www.britsafe.org

Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH),
The Grange, Highfield Drive, Wigston, Leicestershire LE18 1NN
Tel: 0116 257 3100
Website: www.iosh.co.uk

The International Institute of Risk and Safety Management,
Suite 7a, 77 Fulham Palace Road, London W6 8JA
Tel: 020 8741 9100
Website: www.iirsm.org

The National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health,
Dominus Way, Meridian Business Park, Leicester LE19 1QW
Tel: 0116 263 4700
Website: www.nebosh.org.uk

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