There are a number of ways for graduates to gain the necessary skills and qualifications to start a successfull career in health and safety

Health and safety advisers, also known as officers or practitioners, 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.

Working in a range of organisations, from multinationals to small consultancies, health and safety advisers plan, implement, monitor and review protective and preventative safety measures.

Responsibilities

As a health and safety adviser, you'll need to:

  • carry out risk assessments and consider how risks could be reduced;
  • outline safe operational procedures which identify and take into account all relevant hazards;
  • carry out regular site inspections to check policies and procedures are being properly implemented;
  • ensure working practices are safe and comply with legislation;
  • prepare health and safety strategies and develop internal policy;
  • lead in-house training with managers and employees about health and safety issues and risks;
  • keep records of inspection findings and produce reports that suggest improvements;
  • record incidents and accidents and produce statistics for managers;
  • keep up to date with new legislation and maintain a working knowledge of all Health and Safety Executive (HSE) legislation and any developments that affect the employer's industry;
  • attend Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) seminars and read professional journals;
  • produce management reports, newsletters and bulletins;
  • ensure equipment is installed safely;
  • manage and organise the safe disposal of hazardous substances, e.g. asbestos;
  • advise on a range of specialist areas, e.g. fire regulations, hazardous substances, noise, safeguarding machinery and occupational diseases.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for health and safety advisers are usually in the region of £24,000 to £32,000.
  • The role of senior health and safety adviser attracts a salary of around £40,000 to £55,000.
  • Highly experienced advisers, such as head of health and safety, earn £70,000 to £80,000.

Salaries vary significantly depending on the sector, the size of the employing organisation and your level of experience and qualifications.

Salaries for those working abroad are often higher than salaries for those based in the UK and other benefits may include medical insurance, bonuses and a company car.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

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 and there are some opportunities to work overseas.
  • Some activities may involve working at heights or in cramped conditions or in noisy, dirty or dangerous places, though this is not the typical work environment.
  • You may need to wear protective clothing when visiting workplaces.
  • Travel during the day is common for those with multi-site responsibility.

Qualifications

Health and safety has traditionally been a second career for those with degree qualifications in other disciplines. Usually employees are allocated the job of overseeing 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 website 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 individual institutions for details of entry requirements. You are likely to need a minimum of a 2:2 degree, or equivalent, as well as a basic knowledge of health and safety. The National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety, delivered by the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH), provides a good understanding of a broad range of health and safety issues.

Other relevant degree-level qualifications include:

Entry without a degree is possible, provided you achieve an appropriate 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 viewed as the minimum qualification required for a job in health and safety.

A background, or experience in, any of the following areas may be useful:

  • construction;
  • engineering;
  • FMCG;
  • manufacturing;
  • risk assessment.

Skills

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 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;
  • the 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;
  • physical fitness, if your work will involve time on large-scale plants or on outdoor sites;
  • a driving licence - essential for jobs involving travel between sites.

Work experience

Try to gain practical health and safety experience in the area that 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.

Experience of working in a scientific and technical field at an operational level can be very useful, especially if you gain an understanding of industrial processes.

Work shadowing is also valuable as it provides an opportunity to talk to experienced professionals. Experience as a health and safety representative can also be useful. Contact your local IOSH branch for help and advice.

Employers

Health and safety advisers are employed in a variety of settings, including:

  • chemicals and allied industries;
  • companies involved in the transport network;
  • construction companies;
  • education and training institutions;
  • engineering firms;
  • fire and rescue services;
  • food, drink and tobacco industries;
  • hospitals and clinics;
  • hotel and restaurant chains;
  • industrial, processing and manufacturing plants;
  • large companies with responsibility for many office workers;
  • local authorities and national government organisations;
  • local government;
  • oil and gas companies;
  • telecommunications;
  • transport companies;
  • universities and colleges.

New health and safety regulations can lead to an increase in the number of jobs available.

With experience you could work as a consultant, specialising in supporting small organisations or giving specialist advice.

Look for job vacancies at:

Specialist recruitment agencies such as Principal People also advertise vacancies.

Professional development

The training you will receive consists of on-the-job learning, complemented by short, in-house or external training courses, which may be run by:

  • health and safety consultants;
  • local colleges and universities;
  • training departments.

If you don't already have professional qualifications, your training is likely to include part-time study for NEBOSH, NCRQ or City and Guilds NVQ certificates and diplomas and British Safety Council qualifications, such as the Level 3 Certificate in Occupational Safety and Health.

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 CPD, as well as opportunities for networking and making contacts.

Many health and safety advisers work for organisations who are members of the BSC and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).

Career prospects

You may wish to specialise in a particular industrial sector, once you have gained enough experience, for example, in an area such as terrorism, nuclear safety, or offshore oil and gas.

Being flexible about which organisation you work for and the location that you work in will give you greater opportunities for progression.

With experience, you can also move into management at regional and group level, where you might have responsibility for a team of advisers. Or, you may choose to become a consultant, providing specialist advice and support to small organisations.

Another option is to move across into academia, where you could lecture and carry out research, on BSc and MSc courses. Alternatively, in further education, you could work as a course lecturer for the NEBOSH or Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH).