Starting a Career in Health and Safety
So, you want to be a health and safety advisor?
Health and safety professionals come from all walks of life and a wide variety of employment backgrounds. There is definitely no such thing as a “typical” health and safety practitioner!
Generally, those working in health and safety will have initially had some experience of health and safety in another role – for example, they may have been asked to undertake risk assessments, be a fire warden, complete DSE assessments, etc as part of their job. They may have undertaken a general health and safety award-level qualification, such as Managing Safely, or more specific training for their job.
The first step on the health and safety career ladder is generally as a Health & Safety Advisor. At this level, you may be responsible for health and safety in a distinct area of an organisation, assisting a Health & Safety Manager, or even responsible for all health and safety management in a smaller company.
Following this, some people will then progress to a Health & Safety Manager position. These roles are generally responsible for the management of health and safety across a whole organisation, or of a department in a large company.
Some very large companies have the role of a Health and Safety Director, who will generally advise the Board and Senior Managers about health and safety, and be responsible for health and safety management at a strategic level.
Many people working in health and safety find themselves taking on additional roles such as Quality Management, Corporate Risk Management, Fire Safety, and Environmental Management and Sustainability.
The best health and safety professionals tend to be those who are prepared to challenge the way things are done, those who have a natural instinct for understanding why things are done in a particular way, and of course a desire to help improve standards – both in relation to reducing the risks of harm to people, but also to improve business quality and efficiency.
If you often find yourself questioning instructions, rules and standards, or despairing at how dangerous or inefficient a work process is, then health and safety could be an ideal career for you.
In addition to this, and certainly for higher level positions, you will need to be able to influence others – both employees and managers.
Safety practitioners will generally:
- be well organised
- have good attention to detail
- have a general awareness of businesses and how they work
- understand people and their motivations
- be able to influence people in all areas of an organisation.
Whilst some people entering the health and safety profession will have completed an award-level qualification such as Managing Safely, this type of qualification is aimed at general managers and supervisors who are responsible for their team, rather than actually managing health and safety.
The starting point is generally a certificate-level qualification in health and safety, and almost all health and safety advisor positions will ask for this. Most people complete the NCRQ Level 6 Certificate in Applied Health and Safety or equivalent in order to enter at a Health & Safety Advisor level. This doesn’t mean you need to have completed the qualification – some employers will accept those working towards it.
To progress to a Health and Safety Manager position, you will generally need to have completed a Diploma-level qualification such as the NCRQ Diploma in Applied Health and Safety, or NEBOSH National General Diploma.
As with many sectors, employers would ideally like to have someone with some experience in health and safety. This, of course, can be difficult if you are just trying to enter the profession. However, even if you haven’t had any formal health and safety responsibilities, you can try to take on additional work from your current employer – even on a voluntary basis.
The better recruitment managers will look beyond specific health and safety responsibilities, and understand that those with a wide range of experience will be able to demonstrate many of the key skills required to be an effective safety practitioner. Experience in any compliance-based role, quality assurance, engineering, developing systems of work, etc, will all help you get your foot in the door.
However, if you have little experience, it may take a while to “get your foot in the door” of health and safety. But don’t give up – it’s a truly rewarding career, which can lead you to explore so many aspects of business and industry, and make a real difference to the lives of those around you.