Health and safety inspectors work to protect people's health and safety by making sure that risks in the workplace are properly controlled. They ensure employers comply with all aspects of health and safety laws and that workplaces are not the cause of ill health, injury or even death.
They do this by inspecting business premises, advising employers and investigating accidents, and through enforcement of the law.
Health and safety inspectors work mainly for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), although they are also employed by local authorities and large organisations. They work either for a general team or specialise in a particular area, such as construction, forestry or hazardous goods.
Work activities vary depending on the geographical location and specialism but generally include:
- visiting various business and industrial premises to inspect processes and procedures and ensure good health and safety practice;
- investigating accidents and complaints and determining if there has been a breach of health and safety law;
- carrying out examinations of machinery, working environments and structures, taking measurements of noise, heat, and vibrations, and taking photographs and samples where necessary;
- ensuring workers are provided with suitable protective equipment, such as eye goggles, ear protectors or appropriate types of gloves and clothing;
- investigating precautions taken to prevent industrial diseases;
- investigating procedures for working in hazardous environments or with potentially harmful substances;
- keeping up to date with new legislation and health and safety standards;
- staying informed about developments within particular sectors, e.g. in agricultural or construction settings;
- providing specialist advice and information on health and safety to businesses and organisations and advising on changes required;
- negotiating with managers and operators to try to eliminate possible conflicts between safety considerations and production/profit;
- writing reports on results of inspections and investigations and completing detailed paperwork;
- determining when action, i.e. notices and/or prosecution, may be necessary and gathering and presenting the appropriate evidence;
- developing health and safety working programmes and strategies;
- developing methods to predict possible hazards drawn from experience, historical data and other appropriate information sources;
- preparing for and presenting court cases if a decision is made to prosecute (this differs in Scottish law) and also appearing as a witness in court or at an employment tribunal;
- providing training and educational support to employers and new/trainee employees.
- Starting salaries for trainee inspectors with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are around £26,500, rising to about £29,000 after the two-year training period.
- HSE inspectors who have completed training and have three to five years' experience earn in the region of £35,000 to £50,000, depending on the area of specialism and geographical location.
- At senior specialist level, salaries can reach up to £70,000, depending on specialism, location and level of responsibility.
Salaries within individual organisations, local authorities and other health and safety bodies may vary slightly from the above.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours are typically 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, but will involve some evening and weekend work in cases of serious incidents or accidents.
Career breaks, part-time work and job-sharing are quite common, although it is vital to keep up to date with knowledge of health and safety laws and regulations, as well as specialist areas.
What to expect
- Although the work is office based, a lot of time is spent travelling to and visiting workplaces, which may be both indoors and outdoors.
- Conditions in working environments may be noisy, dirty, smelly, stressful or even dangerous. Protective clothing may be required.
- Self-employment and freelance work is sometimes possible. With experience, it may be possible to work as a consultant in occupational health, giving advice and lecturing.
- Opportunities are available in most large towns and cities throughout the country.
- The gender balance is roughly equal.
- Although hours can be flexible, long days with travel are commonplace. There is frequent travel within a working day and occasional absence from home at night. Overseas work or travel is not common but will depend on the setting.
A degree is essential for entry into this profession and it is generally expected that applicants will have an appropriate science or engineering degree, such as any of the following subjects:
- engineering, including electronic/electrical, mechanical and environmental;
- environmental health;
- food technology;
- physical and applied sciences.
Subjects regarded as relevant will depend on the area of health and safety you want to work in. For example, nuclear inspectors will need a degree in a scientific or engineering subject, whereas inspectors in the food industry will need a qualification in food technology.
Those aiming for specialist inspector roles must have a relevant first degree followed by a postgraduate qualification and relevant work experience or chartered membership of a relevant professional institution, e.g. engineering.
A minimum grade C in maths at GCSE (or equivalent) is usually sought.
For entry with an HND only, at least two years' work experience in a relevant profession is required and a related professional qualification is beneficial. Entry is not possible without a degree or HND.
Entry requirements vary between local authorities, although all entrants must meet Civil Service nationality requirements.
Recruitment is through a competency-based application form, followed by assessment centre and ability testing. This is usually carried out centrally and through the services of an external management service.
You will need to show evidence of the following:
- the ability to acquire an understanding of legal matters and to apply industry legislation and standards;
- an understanding of modern industrial technology;
- practical ability to use instruments of measurement;
- willingness to stay up to date with new developments - change is constant in this profession;
- persuasion and negotiation skills;
- problem-solving skills;
- written communication skills;
- the ability to use discretion and tact;
- confidence and resilience.
A driving licence is essential.
Physical fitness and agility can be important, as climbing heights and negotiating uneven surfaces and obstacles may be necessary on occasion. Applicants may have to pass a medical.
The main employer of health and safety inspectors is the HSE, which falls within the remit of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
In order to get a real sense of what the job involves, learn as much as possible about the work of local authority health and safety departments and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) .
Vacancies usually attract a high number of applicants and there is generally fierce competition for the posts.
Inspectors work in offices across England (with headquarters in London and Merseyside), Wales and Scotland. The Field Operations Directorate (FOD), which deals with much of the training, is managed as three geographical divisions throughout the UK.
The HSE is responsible for:
- manufacturing premises;
- construction sites;
- underground systems;
- landfill sites;
- nursing homes;
- educational establishments;
- utilities including gas, electricity and water suppliers;
- police and national government.
Health and safety teams within local authorities employ inspectors and are responsible for shops, offices, hotels, catering establishments, leisure and entertainment businesses and places of worship.
Whilst much of this type of work is undertaken by environmental health officers, there is a need for health and safety professionals, particularly at a managerial/strategic level.
Health and safety inspectors are now more common as organisations adopt risk assessment strategies, and some inspectors find opportunities in organisations such as hospitals and large food retailers with responsibility for large teams of staff.
Health and safety inspectors with extensive experience can work for specialist consultancies in areas such as construction health and safety, stress management and safe working at heights. These roles involve consulting with businesses regarding their legal duties and helping them maintain good health and safety standards by carrying out audits, conducting site inspections and providing training.
Health and safety professionals can also be found in the manufacturing, construction, logistics and utilities industries, although job titles and functions may vary.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Civil Service Job Search
- Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
- Local Government Jobs
- Safety and Health Practitioner (SHP)
- Specialist journals of the industry in which you are interested.
- Local and national press.
Vacancies are also handled by specialist recruitment agencies, such as Principal People.
The HSE provides a clearly defined training route. New entrants complete the Regulators' Training Programme (RTP), which lasts for two years and leads to a Diploma in Regulatory Health and Safety. Practical training is conducted on the job. Attendance at appropriate discipline conferences and training events will also be expected.
Traineeships are advertised, usually in twice-yearly blocks, see the HSE for more details.
Trainee inspectors within the HSE are appointed to one of the area offices around the UK. Each office has a number of specialist industry groups and trainees normally gain experience in several of these over the two-year training period.
Trainees initially accompany and observe experienced inspectors before carrying out supervised site visits themselves. With experience, trainees become involved in a national interest group responsible for a particular industry throughout the UK.
During this time, trainees develop a wide range of contacts, including:
- safety officers;
- senior company managers;
- trade union representatives;
- the staff of health and safety bodies.
Health and safety inspectors within local authorities usually undergo a similar period of training involving placements within various departments and shadowing experienced staff. As well as on-the-job training, they attend short, external courses in specific areas such as noise control and product recognition.
Some authorities encourage health and safety staff to work towards a postgraduate qualification such as an MSc in Health and Safety.
The chartered organisation for health and safety professionals is the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH). It offers training, qualifications and events for its members.
Irrespective of the setting, all inspectors attend courses in order to update their knowledge on new developments in health and safety. They are expected to acquire and develop a good understanding of legal and technical matters.
New recruits within the HSE join as trainee inspectors of health and safety in the Field Operations Directorate (FOD). Subject to satisfactory completion of the two-year training programme, it is then possible to be promoted to principal inspector or above.
As your career develops, it may be necessary to change location to take on increased responsibility, take a different post within the HSE or take a secondment to another part of the Civil Service.
It is usual to consolidate experience with a range of industry groups, staying three to five years with each group.
The next step to principal inspector is dependent on vacancies further up the hierarchy; applicants compete for a limited number of posts. There is considerable variation in the age and length of service of those who are successful.
Promotion to senior management comes only after wide and substantial experience. Inspectors may transfer to other branches of the HSE to undertake policy work, for example.
After considerable experience, a very small number move to posts in consultancy work, lecturing or as safety officers in industry.
Being prepared to move into a managerial post or sidestep into a similar role in a different sector can open up additional career development opportunities.