A health and safety officer (also known as a HSO) monitors how an organisation complies with health and safety law, and provides advice to both companies and employers on safe working environments. A HSO will usually work for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the local government, or a similar body, specially trained to monitor compliance with health and safety regulations. Health and Safety officers also exist within private organisations, usually larger ones, and in the public sector, such as hospitals and schools etc.
Health and Safety Officers are employed in a variety of industries such as construction, manufacturing, catering, waste, IT and aerospace as well as many more. The objective is simple and that is to keep people safe when in the working environment.
A HSO has a number of responsibilities. Whenever visiting an organisation, the health and safety officer must record all information. They carry out routine inspections over the course of time, which will include collating evidence and taking any samples, when necessary. They should investigate any complaints that have been made about the work environment, and provide advice on technical and legal issues. They should collect evidence and build case files, which includes maintaining a database of inspections. If necessary, a HSO may have to present information in court, or on other public enquiries relating to injury and/or death in the workplace. More than anything, a HSO will ensure that an organisation is complying with legislation, and isn’t taking the health and safety of their staff for granted. If this was the case, the officer would suggest ways to improve the working conditions, and monitor any changes that are made thereafter. So, a health and safety officer has plenty of duties – but it is an important one, which helps to make working environments a lot safer for many companies, and can be a successful career path to follow.
You normally need a Higher National Diploma (HND) or degree, usually in occupational safety and health. There are also qualifications at a higher level for those who are clear what their career path is. To practice as a health and safety officer, you can complete either a BSc or MSc in environmental health, they are accredited by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland; in Scotland, they are credited by the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland (REHIS).
Just to get on these courses, however, you will require other qualifications. You will need either NVQs or A-levels. Ideally, these qualifications will be one of the science-based subjects (chemistry, biology and physics) or mathematics, but it isn’t a major problem if this is not the case. However, you would need at least 5 A-C grades at GCSE level, with at least a B in maths.
There are other courses available which can provide you with work experience. There are also sandwich courses, meaning that you will still gain work experience in your chosen field, but whilst the majority of your studies will be at one college, the rest of your time will be spent at another university.
Don’t worry however if you don’t have a degree. Many careers paths see people evolve into different roles and health and safety officer is one of those. Probably the most sought-after qualification required for this role is the National Examination Board for Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH) Certificate and Diploma. NEBOSH and IOSH another qualification in health safety appears on most job descriptions. NEBOSH courses are generally studied at college, and can be taken both full and part-time and require the student to take examinations at the end. However, it is increasingly more common now that NEBOSH courses can be studied intensively over 10-14 days which can really help those looking to fast track their career.
What Employers Are Looking For
Health and safety are important areas that all organisations must always take into consideration. Therefore, as a HSO, you will be required to ensure that all environments you come into contact with are safe and healthy, or if not, suggest the ways that they can be improved. As a result, there are a number of key skills that employers are looking for in a health and safety officer.
Communication skills are very important; you will often have to suggest potential flaws, so being able to explain the problems, the possible consequences if they are not fixed, and how to remedy them in a well-spoken, considerate and calm manner is vital. If not, it could have the opposite effect, and the suggested changes will not be made out of spite, which could then lead to danger.