Relevant degree subjects include physical and applied sciences, life and medical sciences, environmental science and engineering. In particular, the following subjects may increase your chances:
- biomedical science;
- chemical engineering;
- environmental health;
- environmental science (biological);
- medical laboratory science;
- occupational safety, health and environment;
- physical sciences;
- production/manufacturing engineering.
While the role is open to a wide range of technical graduates, the specialist areas listed are examples of subjects commonly sought by employers. A sound background in chemistry is usually needed.
HNDs are sometimes acceptable, although a degree is usually required. For those with an HND, employment at technician level may be more likely. Relevant HND subjects include physical and applied sciences and life and medical sciences. The following subjects in particular may increase your chances:
- chemical and physical sciences;
- environmental health;
- environmental science (biological);
- occupational safety, health and environment.
Although entry without a degree or HND is unlikely, it is not impossible for candidates with extensive experience.
A postgraduate diploma or MSc qualification in occupational hygiene or health will facilitate entry to the profession and improve career advancement. For a list of courses, see BOHS – Education, Training and Career Development . Student membership of BOHS is open to full-time students who have an interest in a healthier work environment, at a cost of £15 per year.
Pre-entry experience is desirable and can provide a valuable insight into the realities of the role. Initial experience in another science or engineering job may be required and may offer an opportunity to take the BOHS or National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH) certificates. Occupational hygiene posts frequently require candidates to have, or be working towards, such qualifications.
Candidates will need to show evidence of the following:
- a strong interest in working for the benefit and wellbeing of others;
- good communication skills, to work with a wide range of people;
- ability to negotiate with or persuade others, in order to achieve results and initiate action;
- a persistent, patient approach to deal with resistance or sometimes confrontational situations;
- operational decision-making skills;
- ability to prioritise and to manage a range of tasks at the same time;
- an analytical and methodical approach, and a high level of attention to detail;
- problem-solving skills and the ability to operate effectively under pressure;
- ability to understand practical conditions in industry and apply workable solutions;
- ability to understand and analyse complex information and present it simply and accurately;
- an interest in the law and the ability to understand regulations.
Many posts are filled by internal promotions from other scientific or engineering posts. Specific vacancies often require knowledge in specialist areas such as acoustics. Graduates from degree courses that covered relevant topics may consider making speculative applications to consultancies.
New graduates are in the minority in this profession as most entrants are mature job changers, including graduates with appropriate experience of harmful agents and monitoring and assessment techniques. However, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against candidates on the grounds of age.
For more information, see work experience and internships and search courses and research.
Traditionally, larger employers provided on-the-job training. However, as many companies have now cut back or discontinued their in-house resources, this type of training is becoming less common. While this has been positive for consultants, as it has increased the demand for outsourcing, it means that training opportunities for graduates aiming to enter the profession have been reduced.
Generally, consultancies only take on technicians who already have a certain level of experience, although it is possible to gain entry-level employment in a consultancy and build up knowledge from this point. This type of job can provide an invaluable start by offering a broad range of experience.
Professional qualifications are usually gained by either full-time or part-time study whilst working. The most common qualifications are a specific MSc from a university, or a certificate or diploma from the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) .
Relevant MSc courses are available in subjects including:
- occupational hygiene;
- occupational health;
- occupational and environmental health and safety management; and
- applied science (occupational health and safety and ergonomics).
The BOHS offers occupational hygiene modules in a range of specialist subject areas, and these can be used as stand-alone qualifications or to support promotion. They are aimed at those who wish to gain a qualification in specified topics of occupational hygiene or, grouped together, to gain exemption from the Society’s Certificate core examination. Proficiency modules are stand-alone, modular-based training courses of two to fours days’ duration, each in a specific and individual area of work. They cover both theory and practical training in the subject area.
The aim of each course is for individuals to become qualified to carry out the work covered by the module. Professionals with relevant experience in a particular area can take the BOHS occupational hygiene and proficiency modules by sitting the examination as an external candidate (without the need to attend a course). The BOHS Bursaries for Modules (BfM) Scheme aims to encourage those already working in the field of occupational health and safety to take their first steps towards a possible career in occupational hygiene.
The British Safety Council is an awarding body that offers a complete set of accredited health and safety qualifications from entry level to level 6 in the UK Qualifications and Credit Framework. It also offers a wide selection of practical and interactive short courses.
Promotion often depends on the nature of the company for which you work. However, it is possible to progress by gaining additional qualifications, undertaking further training, or specialising in a particular area of occupational hygiene.
With experience, there are opportunities to move into management, consultancy, or roles with specialist organisations such as Health and Safety Executive (HSE) . Lectureships in academic departments may also be available. A position in a governmental organisation (such as the HSE or a local authority), in industry, or with a consultancy may lead to an opportunity to move to being an independent consultant.
It may be possible to develop a career internationally as new opportunities arise in fast-growing economies such as those of the Pacific Rim, China and many sub-Saharan African nations.
With the increased complexity of workplace settings and the growing awareness of the impact of workplace environments and practices on health, there is an ongoing need for professionals to update their skills and knowledge. Occupational hygienist roles also increasingly incorporate other aspects of health and safety, such as general safety and environmental assessments.
Participation in continuing professional development (CPD) is mandatory for professional-grade members of the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) , as a means of encouraging and upholding the highest professional standards of knowledge and performance among the qualified practitioners of occupational hygiene.
BOHS also has an online CPD section on its website for members. In addition, it organises an annual international conference which promotes the science and practice of addressing health hazards in the workplace. The conference brings together researchers, practitioners, regulators and business leaders from around the world to discuss issues that affect health at work.
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