Health and safety officers use their knowledge and skills to promote a positive health and safety culture in the workplace.
They are responsible for ensuring that employers and workers comply with safety legislation and that safety policies and practices are adopted and adhered to.
Health and safety officers are based in a wide range of organisations, from multinationals to small consultancies, and help to plan, implement, monitor and review protective and preventative safety measures.
They work in partnership with employers, employees, directors and trade unions to minimise:
- operational losses;
- occupational health problems;
Responsibilities vary depending on the employer and may cover, for example, fire safety or safe use of machinery or noise. However, duties typically involve:
- carrying out risk assessments and considering how risks could be reduced;
- outlining safe operational procedures which identify and take account of all relevant hazards;
- carrying out regular site inspections to check policies and procedures are being properly implemented;
- making changes to working practices that are safe and comply with legislation;
- preparing health and safety strategies and developing internal policy;
- leading in-house training with managers and employees about health and safety issues and risks;
- keeping records of inspection findings and producing reports that suggest improvements;
- recording of incidents and accidents and producing statistics for managers;
- being up to date with new legislation and maintaining a working knowledge of all Health and Safety Executive (HSE) legislation and any developments that affect the employer's industry;
- attending Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) seminars and reading professional journals;
- producing management reports, newsletters and bulletins;
- ensuring the safe installation of equipment;
- managing and organising the safe disposal of hazardous substances, e.g. asbestos;
- advising on a range of specialist areas, e.g. fire regulations, hazardous substances, noise, safeguarding machinery and occupational diseases.
- The average salary for health and safety professionals with up to four years' experience is £30,811, rising to £37,671 for those with up to nine years' experience.
- Health and safety professionals who have worked for 10 to 19 years have average salaries of £44,017, with average salaries for those with more than 20 years' experience rising to £52,319.
- Individual salaries for senior managers can rise to in excess of £200,000.
Salaries vary significantly depending on the sector, the size of the employing organisation and your level of experience and qualifications.
The best paid sector is mining and quarrying (including the extraction of natural gas and petroleum). The sector with the lowest average salary is education.
Salaries for those working abroad are generally higher than salaries for those based in the UK and other benefits may include medical insurance, bonuses and a company car.
Income data from the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH). Figures are intended as a guide only.
Although working hours are typically 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, you may be required to work irregular hours in the case of an accident or if working shifts.
What to expect
- Work is generally office based, although in some roles you may spend a lot of time in the factory, plant or other working premises, such as construction sites, offshore platforms, transportation systems and large-scale processing plants, sometimes in extreme weather conditions.
- Jobs are available throughout the UK.
- Some activities may involve working at heights or in cramped conditions or in noisy, dirty or dangerous places. However, this is by no means the typical work environment.
- Protective clothing may be required when visiting workplaces.
- Travel during the day is common for those with multi-site responsibility.
- For those with experience, there are some opportunities to work overseas.
Health and safety has traditionally been a second career for those with degree qualifications in other disciplines, who have been given the job of safety as an 'extra' to their main role.
Most degree-level qualifications are, therefore, provided at postgraduate level and are aimed at those looking to become health and safety professionals, see the IOSH for a list of accredited courses that meet the academic requirement for Graduate membership of IOSH (Grad IOSH). Search for postgraduate courses in health and safety management.
Check with institutions direct for details of entry requirements. You are likely to need a minimum of a 2:2 degree or equivalent as well as basic knowledge of health and safety, for example the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH) National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety.
Other relevant degree-level qualifications include:
- NEBOSH National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety;
- British Safety Council Level 6 Diploma in Occupational Safety and Health;
- City & Guilds Level 5 (NVQ) Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety Practice;
- National Compliance and Risk Qualifications (NCRQ) Level 6 Diploma in Applied Health and Safety.
Entry without a degree is possible. You will need a combination of relevant health and safety qualifications and experience.
Short introductory courses are available for those interested in a career as a health and safety adviser. The NEBOSH National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety is generally viewed as the minimum qualification required for a job in health and safety.
You will need to show evidence of the following:
- excellent written and spoken communication skills in order to explain health and safety processes to a wide range of people and to give presentations to groups;
- negotiating skills to convince managers of the need to implement and maintain safety standards that may compromise speed or efficiency in the organisation;
- patience and diplomacy because the profession requires a collaborative approach;
- ability to understand and analyse complex information and present it simply and accurately;
- an investigative mind;
- IT skills;
- attention to detail;
- a flexible approach to work;
- an interest in the law and the ability to understand regulations.
A driving licence is vital for jobs involving travel between sites.
Physical fitness is important when working in large-scale plants or on outdoor sites.
For those wishing to move into health and safety it may be useful to have background or experience in areas such as:
- risk assessment.
Experience of working in scientific and technical fields at an operational level and gaining an understanding of industrial processes is valuable. This experience can be used to develop an interest in health and safety before moving into an advisory role.
Try and gain practical health and safety experience in an area you would like to work in. For example, if you are interested in working for local government, a period of experience with a local environmental health department would be useful.
Work shadowing is also valuable as it provides an opportunity to talk to experienced people. Experience as a health and safety representative can also be useful. Contact your local IOSH branch for help and advice.
Although traditionally associated with industrial, processing and manufacturing sites, health and safety officers may also be employed by:
- hotel and restaurant chains;
- large companies with responsibility for many office workers;
- companies involved in the transport network;
- local authorities and national government organisations;
- universities and colleges.
Common areas of employment for health and safety advisers are:
- local government;
- education and training;
- chemicals and allied industries;
- hospitals and clinics;
- the food, drink and tobacco industries;
- oil and gas;
Jobs have been created as a result of new health and safety regulations.
Opportunities also exist to work as a consultant specialising in supporting small organisations or giving specialist advice.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Safety and Health Practitioner (SHP) - magazine of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).
- Websites, journals and publications of the industry you are interested in, for example for the health sector.
- Websites of larger organisations and multinational companies.
- National and local press.
Specialist recruitment agencies such as Principal People also advertise vacancies.
Training consists of on-the-job learning complemented by short, in-house or external training courses, which may be run by:
- training departments;
- local colleges and universities;
- health and safety consultants.
If you don't already have professional qualifications, your training is likely to include part-time study for NEBOSH or British Safety Council qualifications such as the NEBOSH National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety or the BSC Level 6 Diploma in Occupational Safety and Health.
Further study at postgraduate level is also available.
These qualifications meet the academic requirement for graduate membership of IOSH (Grad IOSH). See the website for a full list of accredited qualifications.
As a graduate member you can work towards chartered membership of IOSH (CMIOSH). This involves successfully completing a two-year Initial Professional Development (IPD) scheme. As a chartered member, you must undertake continuing professional development (CPD).
Membership of IOSH or the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management (IIRSM) is helpful for career progression and provides a structured route of continuing professional development (CPD) as well as opportunities for networking and making contacts.
Many health and safety officers work for organisations who are members of the BSC and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).
As a health and safety adviser, you can develop your career in a number of ways, including:
- moving to a larger organisation with more opportunities for career progression;
- specialising in a particular industrial sector, for example nuclear safety or offshore oil and gas;
- gaining expertise in particular areas, such as hazardous substances, security or terrorism. Specialist qualifications are available in areas such as environmental management, fire safety and risk management, and construction health and safety.
With experience, you can also move into management at regional and group level. Health and safety managers often have responsibility for a team of advisers.
In order to progress, you need to be willing to change employers.
Membership of a professional body is useful for career development, see the:
- Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH);
- International Institute of Risk and Safety Management (IIRSM).
Many health and safety officers work towards chartered membership of IOSH (CMIOSH) to provide them with access to the widest range of work and to show employers they have the knowledge and skills needed to progress.
There are also opportunities in universities and colleges for lecturing and research, e.g. in higher education as a lecturer for BSc and MSc courses, or in further education as a course lecturer for:
- National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH)
- Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH)
Some health and safety advisers become consultants specialising in supporting small organisations or giving specialist advice.
There are also opportunities to work overseas.