Health and safety inspectors protect people by making sure that risks in the workplace are properly controlled

As a health and safety inspector, you'll ensure employers comply with all aspects of health and safety laws, and that workplaces are not the cause of ill health, injury or death.

You'll 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 you might find employment in local authorities and large organisations. You'll work either for a general team or specialise in a particular area, such as construction, forestry or hazardous goods.

Responsibilities

Your health inspection work activities may vary depending on the geographical location and specialism but generally you'll need to:

  • visit commercial and industrial premises to inspect processes and procedures and ensure good health and safety practice
  • investigate accidents and complaints to determine if there has been a breach of health and safety law
  • carry out examinations of machinery, working environments and structures, take measurements of noise, heat, and vibrations, and take photographs and samples where necessary
  • ensure workers are provided with suitable protective equipment, such as eye goggles, ear protectors, gloves and other clothing
  • investigate precautions taken to prevent industrial diseases
  • investigate procedures for working in hazardous environments or with potentially harmful substances
  • keep up to date with new legislation and health and safety standards
  • stay informed about developments within particular sectors, e.g. in agricultural or construction settings
  • provide specialist advice and information on health and safety to businesses and organisations and advise on changes required
  • negotiate with managers and operators to try to eliminate possible conflicts between safety considerations and production/profit
  • write reports on results of inspections and investigations and complete detailed paperwork
  • determine when action, i.e. notices or prosecution, may be necessary and gather and present the appropriate evidence
  • develop health and safety working programmes and strategies
  • develop methods to predict possible hazards drawn from experience, historical data and other appropriate information sources
  • prepare for and present at court cases, if a decision is made to prosecute (this differs in Scottish law), and appearing as a witness in court or at an employment tribunal
  • provide training and educational support to employers and new or trainee employees.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for trainee inspectors start at around £26,500. HSE trainee salaries are £30,288, rising to £38,325 after a two-year training period. A London weighting of £4,313 applies.
  • Health and safety inspectors who have completed training and have around three to five years' experience can earn in the region of £35,000 to £50,000
  • In specialist roles at senior level, salaries can reach up to £90,000.

Salaries vary according to individual organisations, the area of specialism, geographical location and level of responsibility.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are typically 9am to 5.30pm, 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's 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 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.
  • 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 travel is unusual, but this will depend on where you work.

Qualifications

Graduates from any discipline can enter this profession, but a degree in one of the following subjects may put you ahead of the competition:

  • 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.

If you're aiming for specialist inspector roles, you must have a relevant first degree followed by a postgraduate qualification and relevant work experience, or chartered membership of a relevant professional institution.

A minimum grade C in maths and English at GCSE (or equivalent) is usually sought.

You can enter this profession with a HND and at least two years' work experience in a relevant profession. 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.

HSE recruitment is through an online application form, which includes motivational questions, followed by a verbal reasoning test, Civil Service Judgement test and assessment centre tests.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • 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, as 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
  • good general health - you may be required to pass a medical examination
  • a good level of physical fitness and agility as climbing heights and negotiating uneven surfaces and obstacles may be necessary on occasion
  • a full driving licence - is essential as the role involves frequent travel to different locations.

Employers

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 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 the head office based in Merseyside), Wales and Scotland, with offices throughout different regions.

The Field Operations Directorate (FOD) is the largest operational inspectorate of the HSE and covers many sectors, including:

  • agriculture
  • construction
  • domestic gas safety
  • education
  • entertainment and leisure industry
  • food and drink manufacture
  • health and social care services
  • local government
  • manufacturing
  • public services
  • quarry health and safety
  • risk education.

For more information see HSE (Health and Safety Executive).

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.

While 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 or 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. Roles can also be found in the manufacturing, construction, logistics and utility industries, although job titles and functions may vary.

Health and safety inspectors with extensive experience can work for specialist consultancies in areas such as construction and stress management.

Look for job vacancies at:

You can also check specialist journals of the industry in which you are interested.

Vacancies are also handled by specialist recruitment agencies, such as Principal People.

Professional development

The HSE provides a training programme for health and safety inspectors. New entrants usually work towards a postgraduate diploma in Occupational Safety and Health. This includes practical training on the job alongside attendance at appropriate discipline conferences and training events.

As a trainee inspector within the HSE, you'll be appointed to one of the area offices around the UK. Each office has a number of specialist industry groups and you'll normally gain experience in several of these over the three-year training period.

Initially, you should expect to accompany and observe experienced inspectors before carrying out supervised site visits yourself. With experience, you can become involved in a national interest group responsible for a particular industry throughout the UK.

During this time, you'll develop a range of contacts, including:

  • safety officers
  • senior company managers
  • trade union representatives
  • the staff of health and safety bodies.

As a health and safety inspector within a local authority, you'll usually undergo a similar period of training involving placements within various departments and shadowing experienced staff. As well as on-the-job training, you'll 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. Search for postgraduate courses in health and safety.

You could consider joining the chartered organisation for health and safety professionals, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), which offers training, qualifications and events for its members.

Regardless of your work setting, you'll attend courses in order to update your knowledge on new developments in health and safety. You are expected to acquire and develop a good understanding of legal and technical matters.

Career prospects

As a new recruit within the HSE, you'll join as a trainee inspector of health and safety in the Field Operations Directorate (FOD). Subject to satisfactory completion of the training programme, you may 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.

You'll usually consolidate experience with a range of industry groups, staying three to five years with each group.

The next step is principal inspector, which depends on competing for vacancies further up the hierarchy; post numbers are limited. There is considerable variation in the age and length of service of those who are successful.

With substantial experience, you could gain promotion to the position of a safety officer in industry, senior manager in policy, consultant or lecturer.

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