In the past, it was more common for health and safety advisers to move into the profession from a background in science, technology or management, but today health and safety is a discipline in its own right.
Much of the work involves an appreciation of operational processes as well as the use of instruments and electronic monitoring, especially of hazardous conditions. Consequently, an accredited degree/HND in the following subjects will increase your chances:
- occupational safety;
- life science;
- health studies.
Although entry is possible for non-graduates, there is a move towards increasing the percentage of graduates in the profession. This will lead to Diplomates facing more competition from graduates when trying to secure employment.
Postgraduate diplomas and MSc courses in occupational safety and health offer an entry route at postgraduate level.
Some experience of working in scientific and technical fields at an operational level and gaining an understanding of industrial processes would be extremely valuable. Using such experience to develop an interest in health and safety before moving into an advisory role is still a recommended route into the profession.
Candidates will need to show evidence of the following:
- a high standard of 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;
- the ability to understand and analyse complex information and present it simply and accurately;
- an investigative mind;
- attention to detail;
- an interest in the law and the ability to understand regulations.
It will be an advantage if you have knowledge of computer applications for preparing reports and recording and analysing statistics, which is the basis for analysing trends.
Physical fitness is sometimes essential, especially for working in large-scale plants or on outdoor sites.
For more information, see work experience and internships and search courses and research.
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, or health and safety consultants.
Health and safety advisers should take advantage of continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities on offer in the industry to enhance their professional competence and skills. The National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH) and the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) offer such training, and postgraduate and MSc courses are offered at institutions nationwide.
All health and safety advisers are required to keep their professional knowledge up to date and the IOSH offers a continuing professional development (CPD) scheme called MyCPD, which is accessible online. CPD provides a structured approach to the maintenance, improvement and broadening of the health and safety adviser’s knowledge and skills. It also includes the development of personal qualities needed to carry out managerial and technical duties.
Graduates in the profession can gain graduate membership of the IOSH and full International Institute of Risk and Safety Management (IIRSM). After five years in a relevant role, health and safety advisers can apply to become chartered members or chartered fellows of the IOSH.
Membership is increasingly used by employers as a criterion for recruitment and remuneration, and is often specified in recruitment advertisements. All applications are initially processed with a view to affiliate membership and the IOSH then works with the applicant on the completion of their CPD and guides them into the most appropriate membership for their skills set.
Further education programmes through local universities and colleges will allow the health and safety adviser to progress steadily through the IOSH membership ranks. Most courses last between one and two years. Entry requirements vary: students with no formal qualifications but lots of practical work experience are welcomed alongside those who have taken a formal educational route into the profession through university.
In order to progress their careers and achieve enhanced status and reward, health and safety professionals need to be willing to change employers. Internal moves within the profession account for less than a quarter of promotions. The career of a health and safety adviser can be developed by moving into management at regional and group level. Some organisations also recruit at director level and such posts may attract salaries of £100,000. A Diploma in Management Studies or an MBA, as well as a health and safety qualification, would be likely requirements for these posts.
Health and safety advisers can also develop their career by moving to a larger organisation, by specialising in a particular industrial sector, e.g. nuclear safety or offshore oil and gas, or by gaining expertise in particular areas, such as hazardous substances, security or terrorism.
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 lecturer for National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH) and Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) courses.
Some health and safety advisers become consultants specialising in supporting small organisations or giving specialist advice. There are also opportunities to work overseas.
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