Health and safety are increasingly impor tant issues in HM Armed Forces; can that become the basis for a successful civilian career?
“Accidents were once thought of as acts of God, who moves in mysterious ways, or, in a secular age, bad luck,” according to John Adams, a professor at University College London. “With the help of a good lawyer, however, it is increasingly possible to transform almost any stroke of bad luck into culpable negligence.”
Which is why, of course, health and safety is often in the news. But it’s not always because an incident has actually occurred . It seems that a growing number of people and organizations are opting for a “better safe than sorry” approach to any perceived risks, fearful of the UK’s growing compensation culture. For example, there was the Carlisle headteacher who provided industrial safety goggles for children playing conkers, or the school which banned the game altogether in case the conkers triggered pupil’s nut allergies.
According to Neil Budworth, President of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), such “conkers bonkers” stories in the press all too easily trivialize the true importance of health and safety in the workplace – which is the prevention of death and injury. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), 212 people were killed at work in the UK during 2005/06 – the latest in a year-on-year trend of falling figures, but still 212 bereaved families too many. On top of that, an estimated seven million working days were lost to the UK economy due to workplace injuries in 2004/05 (the most recent data available at the time of writing).
HEALTH & SAFETY IN THE UK
In the UK, the largest single employer in the sector is the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), a government agency which is responsible for the implementation and enforcement of health and safety legislation. That said, responsibility for a lot of the inspections that take place across the UK is held by local authorities – the other main public sector employers of health and safety personnel (employing on average around 10 staff). Both the HSE and local authorities work on behalf of the Health & Safety Commission (HSC), which proposes new or updated laws and standards, and provides information and advice on health and safety matters to employers and members of the public. Health and safety professionals are also employed by large private companies and organizations; the likes of Sellafield, for instance, will employ hundreds of safety practitioners.
The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) is the professional body for health and safety practitioners, setting appropriate standards for its members and recognizing qualifications issued by universities and other bodies. Membership of IOSH (which currently stands at around 30,000) is seen as essential evidence of an individual’s competence and qualifications within the industry; indeed, when it comes to being “in the know” about the sector, it’s worth joining as an Affiliate even if you don’t yet have the necessary qualifications to join the IOSH at any other level – these range from Technician Member (a Level 3 accredited health and safety qualification plus five years’ experience) right up to Chartered Member and Chartered Fellow (level 4 with professional peer approval of continuing professional development). The National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH) is a n independent body that awards IOSH-recognized health and safety qualifications.
Although an organization such as the HSE also employs scientists, doctors, solicitors, journalists, economists, statisticians and administrators, the bulk of its work is carried out by its many health and safety inspectors who – as the title suggests – inspect and investigate health and safety issues in the widest range of occupations, from the constr uction industry to farms. Their day-to-day work may vary, depending on their exact specialism, but will usually involve visiting various businesses where they will examine ways to improve health and safety standards; investigate accidents and official complaints; check equipment and working environments; confirm compliance with current health and safety legislation; work out with managers and operators the best way to minimise risks without unnecessarily harming production; and write up reports.
HEALTH AND SAFETY AND HM ARMED FORCES
By definition, life in any of HM Armed Forces is not without risk. Even when they’re not on active service, military personnel will potentially work at least some of the time either in hazardous locations or with dangerous equipment. Half of the 158 regular forces fatalities recorded during 2005 were the result of accidents, with the most common factor in all fatalities being moving vehicles. As with any employer, the Services have a duty of care, and this has led to an increased emphasis on health and safety. Indeed, it is now recognized that the Services provide plenty of opportunities for Forces personnel to earn highly useful health and safety qualifications (such as N/SVQs or NEBOSH awards) both during their active Service career and during the Resettlement period.
According to the IOSH’s Hazel Harvey, a career in health and safety can be particularly suitable for Service leavers in one respect. “Health and safety is very much a second career for people,” she says. “Lots of folks coming out of the Forces at a mature age are actually of the age profile that many health and safety employers look for. Certainly the HSE tends to recruit from other professions and then train people.” That said, the HSE does not normally recruit anyone who is not a graduate.
Characteristics health and safety inspectors need to possess include problem-solving abilities, strong written and verbal communication skills, resilience and confidence, and physical fitness and agility – all attributes that most Service leavers are likely to possess. It’s also fairly certain that someone with military experience will not shirk at some of the features of the job, which, while largely office-based, nevertheless involves a lot of travelling to visit workplaces, which can be noisy, dirty, smelly and stressful. Working hours may also need to stretch beyond the nominal nine to five – and it may well be necessary to work away from home.
PAY & PROSPECTS
Thanks to legislative changes, such as The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employment in the health and safety sector is growing – indeed, the IOSH has seen its membership rise significantly year-on-year in recent years. This is undoubtedly assisted by the increased responsibilities on employers to ensure the employment of ‘competent’ health & safety staff. There remains, however, strong competition for available posts.
Salaries in the sector range from £13k to £50k, depending upon experience, location and type of company or organization. Trainee inspectors in the HSE begin at £20.5k, although salaries for experienced staff (who have completed the two-year HSE training programme and have up to five years’ experience) can range between £24.8k and £36k. Staff at senior levels can earn up to £46.7k within the HSE, although other public sector employers may pay less. Self-employed consultants can earn hourly rates of between £15 and £50, depending on experience, reputation and client, although it has to be said that such freelance opportunities are rare.
Health and safety is a profession that requires qualifications, along with demonstrable knowledge and experience. It is possible to obtain degrees in health and safety, but this isn’t necessary in order to find employment, as Hazel Harvey explains: “We will accept an NVQ Level 4, and there are a couple of awarding bodies – the British Safety Council and NEBOSH – who offer diplomas at that level. Often a starting point for careers is a Level 3 standard; the most common of these, and certainly one which the Forces tend to use, is a NEBOSH general certificate.”
N/SVQs at Levels 3 and 4 in Occupational Health and Safety Practice are recognised by IOSH as meeting its academic requirement for Graduate Membership, and take about a year to complete. Alternatively, a wide range of engineering or technical degrees, HNDs, HNCs, NDs, and NCs can provide a good background for health and safety. Some institutions offer their courses by distance learning.
Anyone wanting to become a health and safety inspector will need to show evidence of being able to understand legal matters, and to apply legislative standards to practical situations. An ability to correctly use appropriate measurement instruments and to stay up-to-date with current and future developments in the field is also important.
Health and safety can provide a challenging and worthwhile career that helps save lives and prevent injury – it’s certainly about much more than just being bonkers about conkers.
Health and Safety Executive
Infoline: 08453 450055
Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH)
0116 257 3100
0116 263 4700