Each business, regardless of its size, scope and the industry in which it operates, has a legal obligation to protect the health, safety, and welfare of all their employees by law. The growing awareness about such worker rights, tougher state and federal regulations, rising costs of claims have helped drive the demand for occupational health and safety professionals.
In addition, a career in this field can be quite rewarding, both personally and financially. But what does it take to become a health and safety professional? In this article, we will examine this along with other key details about the position.
What is a Health & Safety Professional?
A health and safety professional is the foreperson for ensuring compliance with legislation under regulatory government agencies. Besides promoting fair labour practices, health and safety professionals are responsible for helping reduce workplace injuries, fatalities, occupational illnesses and property damage by installing relevant controls.
The need for these professionals is even more pronounced in industries such as construction, manufacturing, or engineering, which have a higher instance of workplace accidents.
Why Choose a Career in Health & Safety?
Safety is an immensely rewarding profession, given that the work revolves around protecting the lives of others. Additionally, choosing a career in safety is a practical choice. The high demand ensures job availability and job security, and the nature of the work offers career advancement and leadership opportunities because the skills required can transfer to other roles, such as management, consultancy or higher education.
Occupational health and safety professionals must meet the challenge of being frequently tested in their specific field, because each problem has a different solution. Since most of the current office bearers are all nearing retirement age, positions for professionals are ample in the UK and other European nations.
Salaries start from £24,000 to £32,000, increasing up to £55,000 as a senior and an upward of £70,000 as a highly experienced officer.
Therefore, careers in safety are financially, mentally, and altruistically rewarding and constitutes a sensible choice. Since they offer a strategic return on investment and a competitive advantage to companies, positions for occupational health and safety professionals will never run out.
What Do Health and Safety Professionals Do?
A health and safety professional uses his or her expertise to advise, devise strategies and lead employee safety and health management by implementing sustainable risk controls and management practices. They promote health and wellness in the workplace, reducing accidents in multiple ways that include the following:
1. Manage Organisational Strategy
A health and safety professional is responsible for staying up-to-date with government and federal regulations, industry best practices and changes to the work environment and equipment that impact workplace safety. They must then devise and adapt organisational strategy accordingly. They upgrade policies to meet changes, boost performance and protect workers and the organisation from the risks of accidents and ill health.
2. Take the Lead on Training
In order to work safely, everyone within an organisation must understand the hazards they face, what has been done to protect them and what they must do to protect themselves and others. To ensure this happens, training must be adequately provided. This includes induction training, training for specific work or types of equipment and regular refresher training to keep skill up to date.
This aspect of the job means being able to assess gaps in knowledge or competency and identifying what is required to address them. They may also be called on to give presentations and toolbox talks for staff.
3. Ensure the Safety of the Facility
Occupational health and safety professionals ensure that the workplace is safe for employees. They do this by conducting regular safety inspections and risk assessments, monitoring variables such as air, noise, and heat and looking for hazards such as outdated and defective equipment, unstable scaffolding or potential slip-and-fall liabilities.
They must also talk to workers or their representatives to stay informed of any problems that have been identified.
4. Preventive Measures
If they do occur, however, a safety director is the one who investigates the accident, identifies the cause behind it and implements the necessary measures and changes that stop it from recurring.
This ongoing improvement of internal processes and systems through holistic examination of the workplace is the core responsibility of the occupational health and safety professional, who install measures that not only curtail workplace hazards but also limit financial loss for the organisation.
5. Record Keeping
Once the problem areas are identified, these safety engineers prepare written reports and advise the implementation of safety programs that correct the issue.
What Do Aspiring Health and Safety Professionals Need to Know?
Before entering this profession, it is essential to know that health and safety professionals will sometimes be working in dangerous environments such as power plants, industrial work sites, construction sites or warehouses. They may also be required to test toxic materials such as mildew and asbestos. However, there are considerable precautions in place to ensure safety.
The workweek averages 40 hours, from 9 to 5, but safety professionals may be on call for emergencies. To enter this field, they must possess the following skills:
- Attention to detail
- Analytical skills
- Physical stamina (on-site work)
- Report writing
- Professional communication
- Data collection and analysis
- Risk management
- Ability to work well with both labour and management
- Ability to keep up with the latest legislation
Health and Safety Professionals Career Paths?
The scope of a health and safety professional’s job is extremely diverse, owing to the broad range and complexity of the field. Positions are available and common in all kinds of industries, but there are more jobs in areas such as manufacturing, construction, petroleum and chemical industries, transportation, government, schools, healthcare, service industries, and insurance agencies.
In the workplace, there is great potential for career progression and promotion to positions such as Vice President of Health and Safety, Safety Director, or Coordinator of Loss Control at a firm. Similarly, these experts could head their consultancies or become directors at different government agencies. They can also choose to further specialize in fields such as ergonomics, environmental management, occupational psychology, fire protection engineering or product design, among others.
How Does One Become a Health and Safety Professional?
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require demonstrable job competency as a precursor for overseeing site safety. It does not necessarily mean a university degree or certificate. But it does mean you must have the relevant skills, knowledge and experience to do the job. There are different ways to go about this.
For most, this means taking training courses to obtain professional health and safety qualifications, and then gaining relevant professional experience in a specific sector.
A bachelor’s degree in Occupational Health and Safety or a relevant technical field, covering coursework such as Safety and Health Standards, Industrial Hygiene, Waste Management or Accident Prevention will help people stand out and obtain jobs in high-risk industries. If that is not possible, there are many entry-level courses to consider instead for a health and safety professional certification.
Knowledge of health and safety can be obtained by online courses accredited by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and the National Examination Board in Occupational Health and Safety (NEBOSH). Since they can be attended virtually, it is easy for people to transition into health and safety from another field.
After starting with basic courses such as IOSH Working Safely or NEBOSH Safety Simplified, trainees can progress to higher Level 3 qualifications such as IOSH Managing Safely or the NEBOSH National General Certificate in Occupation. This Level 3 qualification is mandatory for a full-time job role.
The higher the number of certifications obtained and the more up-to-date one’s course knowledge is, the higher the probability of succeeding in this profession. Therefore, it is crucial for occupational health and safety professionals to constantly renew their qualifications.
Human Focus Training Options
Human Focus provides the professional credentials that are needed to become an occupational health and safety professional. With practical and easy-to-use software, we offer over 250 approved and accredited online health and safety courses. These include the IOSH Working Safely and IOSH Managing Safely, both of which engagingly deliver the coursework.
Professional health and safety qualifications can always be improved, and Human Focus offers a range of resources that will help expand your knowledge base to better tackle health and safety issues that you or your workforce may face.