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How to Become a Health and Safety Officer

Responsibilities, working hours, what to expect and qualifications needed

Career guides » How to Become a Health and Safety Officer

What does a health and safety officer do?

A health and safety officer is sometimes also known as a health and safety practitioner, manager or adviser. It is also possible to combine the role with other disciplines, such as quality and environment, human resources, compliance or security. They can generalise in all health and safety aspects or specialise in specific areas, such as fire safety, COSHH, manual handling, noise, machinery, etc.

Health and safety is a legal requirement in the workplace. It is essential as it prevents and reduces the risk of fatalities, injuries and ill health. Health and safety officers are responsible for ensuring that employers, their employees and others in the workplace are aware of their legal duties and comply with relevant health and safety legislation, policies and procedures.

A health and safety officer’s main aim is to prevent and reduce accidents, injuries and ill health at work by promoting a positive health and safety culture. They prevent workers and others from being harmed in the workplace by advising on health and safety matters. Criminal and civil legal action can also occur if someone is injured or made ill or for non-compliance with health and safety laws. Therefore, health and safety officers also play a part in preventing prosecutions and compensation claims, which can be costly for businesses.

Health and safety officers will carry out many tasks, including keeping up to date with legislation, providing health and safety advice to employers and employees, completing inspections, audits and investigations, conducting health and safety training, etc. The role also encompasses a significant amount of administrative work, such as writing health and safety policies and procedures, completing risk assessments, keeping accurate records and writing reports.

Health and safety officers can work with various colleagues (at all levels, including directors, CEOs and boards) and departments within a company, depending on the business activities and size. They may be the only health and safety officer or work in a health and safety department with other officers, advisers and support staff. They may also be required to liaise with other external stakeholders, including trade unions, health and safety consultants, other experts, manufacturers, suppliers, customers, occupational health providers, insurance companies, solicitors, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the police, local authorities, the Fire & Rescue Service and other enforcement authorities.

A health and safety officer can work in almost any industry and a company of any size. Some may be at one site, and others may work at multiple locations or travel regionally. There are self-employment and freelance opportunities for those in a health and safety career.

Responsibilities

A health and safety officer’s responsibilities will depend on the industry they work in, who they work for, the activities carried out by the business, and whether they have a dual role, e.g. H&S and environmental.

Some examples of their duties can include (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Interpreting and keeping up to date with health and safety legislation, codes, best practices and industry standards.
  • Producing health and safety policies, procedures, safe systems of work, etc.
  • Maintaining and reviewing health and safety management systems.
  • Advising employers and employees on health and safety matters.
  • Producing newsletters, bulletins, leaflets, campaigns, initiatives and promotions.
  • Carrying out risk assessments and considering how to prevent, reduce or control health and safety risks.
  • Ensuring employers and employees comply with health and safety legislation and internal policies and procedures.
  • Investigating accidents, near misses and incidents of ill health and identifying causes and preventive measures.
  • Carrying out health and safety inspections and audits and recommending improvements.
  • Chairing or being involved in health and safety meetings.
  • Involving managers, supervisors and workers in health and safety matters to get as much buy-in as possible.
  • Conducting health and safety training and delivering presentations.
  • Liaising and cooperating with enforcement authorities, e.g. the HSE and local authorities.
  • Collating records and information in the event of compensation claims and liaising with insurance companies and solicitors.
  • Working with employee representatives or trade unions.
  • Keeping accurate records and producing reports and statistics, e.g. accidents, near misses and ill health.
  • Reporting RIDDOR reportable incidents to the HSE.

Some health and safety officers will also be responsible for looking after health and safety and other management systems and maintaining certification, e.g. ISO45001.

It is important to note that while health and safety officers have responsibilities for their own health and safety and others (as an employee), they do not have overall responsibility for health and safety within an organisation, as this is the employer’s legal duty under health and safety law.

Working hours

A health and safety officer can expect to work 38–40 hours a week, but they can do more or fewer hours depending on their role and the business’s needs.

Most health and safety roles are 9 to 5, Monday–Friday. However, there may be some opportunities for night shifts and weekend work. Overtime may be necessary in some cases, e.g. if an accident needs investigating.

The role can involve local or national travel. For example, a health and safety officer working for a construction company will usually need to visit sites regionally. There may also be opportunities for health and safety officers to work overseas.

What to expect

Being a health and safety officer can be challenging but rewarding. They can go home at the end of the working day knowing they have made a difference by helping to prevent and reduce the risk of accidents, injuries and ill health in the workplace and ensure workers go home safe and well at the end of the day. Some accidents can be fatal, severe injuries can be life-changing, and exposure to hazardous substances can cause long-term health issues. Therefore, health and safety officers can also help save lives. They also help keep businesses on the right side of the law and prevent compensation claims, saving companies money in the long run.

If an individual is technical, has an investigative nature, is inquisitive, and loves to learn, this role would be a great fit. Researching health and safety laws, guidance and best practices to keep workers safe and healthy can be interesting. It can also be very fulfilling to see recommendations making a difference in the workplace and getting positive feedback.

There are numerous opportunities for growth in health and safety, various industries to work in and different specialisms. Jobs are available nationally and internationally, and the role can include other disciplines, such as quality, environment, HR, facilities and security.

Boredom will never be a problem for health and safety officers, as it is a busy, varied role. An individual may be training one moment and investigating an accident the next. There are opportunities to see different areas when travelling to various sites, and some regional roles may enable individuals to work from home or hybrid work. There may also be opportunities to travel overseas.

Even though being a health and safety officer is rewarding, and there are many positives, individuals should consider the cons and challenges, for example (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Poor health and safety culture – for health and safety culture to be positive, it needs to have buy-in from those at the very top of the organisation and must be embraced by everyone in the business. Unfortunately, this does not happen in some organisations and can lead to employees not following policies, procedures, safe systems and risk assessments, resulting in a poor health and safety culture and more accidents and incidents. Working in organisations such as these can be very challenging and stressful. Therefore, individuals should be aware that not all workplaces embrace health and safety, despite being a legal requirement.
  • Injuries and ill health – although rare, there can be fatalities, and there are many examples of severe injuries at work or people falling ill (see HSE Media Centre for examples). Health and safety officers may witness injuries or the aftermath, e.g. blood, during an investigation, so the role is not for the squeamish. If there is a serious accident or incident, health and safety officers may also need to liaise with the HSE or local authorities during their investigation, which can be daunting and stressful.
  • Computer work – the role involves a considerable amount of time at the computer. For example, producing and updating policies and procedures, recording accidents, near misses and other incidents, producing investigation reports, writing newsletters and bulletins, researching laws, emailing advice, etc.
  • Physical demands – some health and safety officer roles can be physically demanding, especially at large or multiple sites. It can involve lots of walking around or driving during the working day. Although not typical, some tasks may require individuals to visit hazardous places, e.g. heights, confined/cramped spaces, and noisy, dirty and dusty areas. They may also need to wear personal protective equipment (PPE), which can be uncomfortable, and work outdoors in all weathers.
  • Mental demands – health and safety often has a bad reputation, which can put those working in this profession in situations where conflict can arise. There is sometimes a lot of criticism and pushback when advising others on health and safety matters and recommending further actions, which can be demoralising and frustrating at times. There can also be high workloads and multiple demands, which can be stressful.

Every career choice has pros and cons, and individuals must know what to expect before deciding whether it is a suitable career. It is physically and mentally demanding, there is a lot of computer work, and the job can be difficult if there is a poor health and safety culture. However, there are many positives too, and working in an organisation that embraces health and safety is fulfilling and helping to prevent harm to workers can be rewarding.

When considering whether to be a health and safety officer, individuals should look at the pros and cons. They should also ensure they have the right personal qualities to carry out the role and responsibilities required.

Personal qualities needed to be a health and safety officer

Some of the personal qualities a health and safety officer requires will include (this list is not exhaustive):

  • An interest in health and safety, the law and helping people.
  • Physically fit, especially when working at large or multiple sites.
  • Knowledge of health and safety legislation, best practices and standards.
  • Knowledge of specialist areas, e.g. fire safety.
  • Knowledge of maths, e.g. for producing health and safety statistics.
  • Confident, patient, persuasive, persistent, tactful, determined and assertive.
  • Excellent communication skills, both written and verbal.
  • Hazard identification and risk assessing skills.
  • Analysing skills.
  • Active listening skills.
  • Investigation skills.
  • Problem-solving skills.
  • Negotiating skills.
  • Interpersonal skills.
  • Training skills.
  • Time management, planning and organisational skills.
  • Thinking and reasoning skills.
  • Being thorough, accurate and having attention to detail.
  • The ability to interpret health and safety laws, codes and standards.
  • The ability to present complex information to others clearly, simply and concisely.
  • The ability to work well with others and alone using own initiative.
  • The ability to work quickly and efficiently and meet tight deadlines.
  • The ability to work under pressure and remain calm in stressful situations.
  • The ability to train, teach, instruct and engage people at all levels.
  • The ability to create courses on a range of health and safety topics.
  • The ability to develop strong relationships.
  • The ability to be flexible and adapt to change.
  • The ability to accept criticism.
  • The ability to use IT and software packages.

Qualifications

There are many different routes to becoming a health and safety officer. Individuals could go to university or college, enrol on a course with a private training provider, apply for an apprenticeship or apply directly to companies as a trainee. They could also do work experience to help them enter the role.

University

An individual does not need a degree to become a health and safety officer. However, having an undergraduate or postgraduate degree can help individuals stand out from the crowd.

Some examples of relevant courses are (this list is not exhaustive):

  • BSc (Hons) Occupational Health & Safety.
  • BSc (Hons) Occupational Safety and Health Management (Top-up) (for those with existing qualifications).
  • PgCert Occupational Health and Safety.
  • MSc/PgDip/PgCert Safety & Risk Management.

Some courses also offer health and safety with other disciplines, for example:

  • BSc (Hons) Safety, Health and Environmental Management.
  • MSc Safety, Health and Environment.

It is better if courses are accredited, e.g. by the Institution of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH).

The entry requirements will depend on each university, and individuals should check before applying. They will typically need three good A Levels for an undergraduate degree or a certain number of UCAS points to get into university. Postgraduate degrees usually require a 2:1 or 2:2. Some institutions also invite applicants for an interview as part of the selection process.

College/private training

Undertaking a college or private training course can help individuals get into the role. The most recognised health and safety qualifications are IOSH, NEBOSH and NVQ.

  • IOSH courses tend to be aimed at leaders, managers and workers in the workplace but can be a great starting point for individuals looking to become a health and safety officer with no prior knowledge.
  • NEBOSH courses – are most recognised by employers, and there are many different NEBOSH qualifications. Most employers require individuals to have a NEBOSH National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety. However, some roles will ask for the National Diploma for Occupational Health and Safety Management Professionals (previously the NEBOSH National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety).
  • NVQs – there are various NVQ levels in Occupational Health and Safety, e.g. Level 3 is a certificate, Levels 5 & 6 are diplomas (degree level), and Level 7 is equivalent to a Master’s degree. It is a better option for individuals who do not do well in exams, as it is coursework-based.

The entry requirements and completion time will depend on the course type and study mode. There are no specific entry requirements for NEBOSH qualifications apart from a minimum standard of English. It is recommended individuals complete the certificate before attempting the NEBOSH Diploma. Always check the entry requirements before applying.

Individuals are not guaranteed success with courses and qualifications. However, it will demonstrate to employers that they are keen on the job and may give individuals a competitive edge.

Apprenticeships

There is an apprenticeship route to help individuals become a health and safety officer, e.g. health and safety advanced apprenticeship and a safety, health and environment technician advanced apprenticeship. There may also be opportunities to do a higher or degree apprenticeship.

Individuals will usually need the following:

  • Advanced apprenticeship – four or five GCSEs, grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), including English and maths, or equivalent.
  • Higher or degree apprenticeship – four or five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) and A Levels, or equivalent.

Opportunities are found on Government’s Apprenticeships, Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and Indeed.

Applying directly

Some organisations offer health and safety trainee or internship roles where they will train individuals on the job and pay for them to do health and safety qualifications. It can be a good route for those struggling to pay for courses, as they can be expensive.

Individuals will still need a good standard of education and demonstrate a passion for health and safety in the industry in which they want to work. Most job sites advertise trainee roles and internships.

Health and safety officer with work experience in construction

Work experience

Having relevant work experience can help individuals become health and safety officers. It is advisable to have experience working in the industry they want to be a health and safety officer in, e.g. construction, manufacturing, engineering or education. Alternatively, they could enrol on a health and safety qualification/course while working.

Individuals could apply for work experience in a health and safety department and shadow people already in the role to get an idea of what it is like and if it is for them. They could also contact local health and safety consultancies or an IOSH branch to ask for advice.

There may be volunteer opportunities where individuals could gain experience in certain areas of health and safety, e.g. risk assessment or work in community safety schemes. There is information on volunteering and local opportunities on Do-IT, NCVO, Volunteering Matters and Indeed.

Health and safety officer after taking training courses

Training courses

Learning does not stop with experience or once someone becomes qualified. Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help individuals enter the profession, enhance their employability and give them a competitive edge. Many colleges and accredited private training providers can provide relevant training courses. We offer various approved Health & Safety Courses that can help individuals build their knowledge.

Some examples of courses that may be useful for health and safety officers include (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Health and safety Levels 2 & 3.
  • Risk assessment.
  • Fire safety.
  • Accident investigation.
  • Manual handling.
  • Legionella.
  • Asbestos.
  • Display screen equipment (DSE).
  • Confined spaces.
  • Hazardous substances (COSHH).
  • Dangerous substances (DSEAR).
  • Work-related stress.
  • Lone working and work-related violence.
  • Work equipment and PUWER.
  • Work at height.
  • Occupational health.
  • First aid.
  • COVID-19 awareness.
  • Time management.
  • Conflict management.

There are numerous professional bodies, associations, institutions, federations, regulators and trade unions that can also advise on reputable training courses, e.g:

There are also bodies for specific industries, areas and workers. Some of the above provide memberships, events and support to help individuals become health and safety officers and give those already in the role the means to continue their professional development.

The type of training required will depend on the organisation an individual works for, the industry and the activities carried out. It is worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the training needed for roles. Jobs can be found on websites such as GOV.UK find a job service, Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, IOSH Jobs, HSE Jobs, SHP4Jobs and HSE Network. Also, look at recruitment agencies for health and safety jobs.

More relevant training and competence (skills, experience and knowledge) will open up more opportunities. Refresher training is also advisable as it is a legal requirement and keeps an individual’s knowledge and skills up to date.

Criminal records checks

Some health and safety officers may need to undergo a criminal record check, e.g. if they work in an industry where they will have contact with vulnerable children/adults. It may also be required if they work for the police, Armed Forces and nuclear industries.

A criminal record, caution, warning or conviction may put off prospective employers. However, they should account for the seriousness of the crime, when it occurred and its relevance to the role.

The organisation that holds criminal records will depend on the country within the UK, for example:

Driving

Most health and safety officers will need a full driving licence (preferably with no points), especially if they travel to different sites. Some roles will provide a company vehicle for this, but others may require individuals to use their own, which must have business insurance.

Health and safety officer working in engineering

Where do health and safety officers work?

Health and safety officers can work for public and private companies in various industries, such as (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Construction.
  • Engineering.
  • Nuclear.
  • Chemical.
  • Agriculture.
  • Telecommunications.
  • Oil and gas.
  • Transport.
  • Manufacturing and processing.
  • Education.
  • Retail.
  • Hospitality.
  • Warehousing and distribution.
  • Healthcare, e.g. hospitals, care homes and hospices.
  • Local authorities and the government.
  • The Armed Forces, e.g. the Navy, the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Army.
  • The prison service.
  • The emergency services, e.g. police, ambulance, and fire & rescue.

Where health and safety officers work will depend on their industry, the requirements of their role and the activities the business carries out.

They can work in a variety of settings, such as (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Offices (the most common).
  • Warehouses.
  • Factories, workshops, processing plants and manufacturing facilities.
  • Outdoors, e.g. construction sites and yards.
  • On transport.
  • Offshore, e.g. oil rigs.
  • Clinical environments.
  • In a vehicle (travelling).

Some health and safety officers can work from home or hybrid work, especially if their role is regional. There is also scope for them to freelance, usually through recruitment agencies.

Jobs are available nationally, and there can be opportunities for health and safety officers to work overseas.

Health and safety officer in mid career

How much do health and safety officers earn?

The salaries for health and safety roles tend to be competitive. However, what a health and safety officer earns will depend on their job, industry, employer, specialisms, location, qualifications and experience.

Some examples of average salaries include (these figures are a guide only):

  • Entry level (less than 1 year of experience) – £23,104 a year.
  • Early career (1–4 years of experience) – £26,134 a year.
  • Mid-career (5–9 years of experience) – £27,411 a year.
  • Experienced (10–19 years of experience) – £32,000 a year.
  • Late career (20 years and higher) – £42,000 a year.

According to Glassdoor, the national average salary for a Health and Safety Officer is £28,528 annually.

Some employers offer numerous benefits, such as company vehicles, bonuses, pensions, private healthcare, employee assistance programmes, etc.

As an apprentice, the salary will depend on an individual’s age and how long they have been in their apprenticeship. Apprentices must earn at least the current National Minimum Wage (NMW). Some employers will pay more than this. However, it will depend on the organisation and role on offer.

Specialising in asbestos health and safety

Types of health and safety to specialise in

Most health and safety officers will generalise in all aspects of health and safety, but there are opportunities to specialise in specific areas of health and safety, such as:

  • Risk assessment, e.g. fire and legionella.
  • Manual handling.
  • Hazardous substances (COSHH).
  • Dangerous substances (DSEAR).
  • Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH).
  • Noise and vibration.
  • Asbestos.
  • Work at height.
  • Confined spaces.
  • Work equipment and machinery (PUWER).
  • Occupational health.
  • Wellbeing.

They can also choose health and safety roles combined with other disciplines, such as quality, environment, HR and security. There are also options to specialise in industries such as construction.

Various health and safety roles will require differing knowledge, skills, experience and qualities. Some industries, such as construction, may require specific qualifications. All health and safety officers must keep up to date with relevant legislation, know how to assess risks and investigate, provide advice and guidance, write policies, procedures and reports, engage people, maintain records, etc. Any additional areas of expertise will depend on what an organisation is looking for and the type of health and safety role an individual wants.

If health and safety officers do not carry out their role correctly, it can result in incorrect advice, hazards not identified or assessed, and accidents/incidents not being investigated properly. It can mean an increase in accidents and ill health, non-compliance with the law and, in worse cases, it can also put people’s lives and health at risk. Therefore, whatever the type of role, health and safety officers must have the necessary competence to carry out the work professionally and safely. They should also know the limits of their competency, i.e. asking for help when something is beyond their expertise.

Health and safety officer with knowledge of laws

Professional bodies

Standards, best practices, laws, equipment and technologies are regularly changing. Therefore, health and safety officers must keep abreast with the latest developments and changes to ensure they carry out their roles effectively and correctly. Continuing professional development (CPD) gives health and safety officers the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes, understand their responsibilities, be legally compliant and progress in their careers.

Joining a professional body, association, institution, federation or trade union (as mentioned earlier) can help individuals enhance their skills and overall career. They offer different levels of membership, CPD, support, access to industry contacts and networking events. Some employers will require individuals to be IOSH members.

There is ample opportunity for career progression for health and safety officers. With more qualifications and experience, they can become a health and safety lead or director or specialise in more complex industries, such as chemical manufacturing, nuclear and offshore. They could also manage a health and safety department and team or combine their role with other areas, e.g. environment and quality. Alternatively, they may decide to work for a health and safety consultancy or start their own business.

Knowledge, skills and experience from being a health and safety officer can also lead to a career in different areas. For example, they could work in research, training, course writing, lecturing or examining. They could decide to work for enforcement authorities, such as the HSE, or concentrate on health and safety in a law firm. There may also be opportunities to enter a more technical role as an asbestos, noise or vibration surveyor or specialise in safety equipment.

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