The Healthy Option: Safety First

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It’s far from being a charter for spoilsports; health and safety is a serious profession that saves life and limb. Not only that, having appropriate health and safety qualifications could give you a genuine edge in the job market.

From Civvy Street Magazine #46 (April 2014), Words: Paul F Cockburn

We’re sure you’ve heard stories about “health and safety gone mad”; of kids having to wear goggles when playing conkers, or trapeze artists being told to wear hard hats. They’re myths, of course; the UK’s health and safety legislation (most notably the Health and Safety Act which came into force on 1 October 1974), no more stops office workers from putting up Christmas decorations than it bans candy floss on a stick because of fears that someone might accidentally trip and impale themselves.

What that Act has done during the last four decades is simple: it has saved thousands of lives and prevented hundreds of thousands of serious, life-changing injuries. Back in 1974 nearly 700 people (a battalion’s worth, you might say) died in the UK’s workplaces each and every year, while thousands more were injured, often seriously and permanently. When the overall performance of the Act was officially reviewed seven years ago, the number of fatal injuries recorded between 1974 and 2007 had fallen by almost three quarters (73%), while there had been more than a two thirds drop (70%) in the number of reported non-fatal injuries. Nevertheless, more needs to be done; some 27 million working days were lost in 2011/12; 4.3 million due to workplace injury, while 22.7 million were down to work-related ill health.

Health and Safety legislation essentially defines the duties and responsibilities required by employers, employees, contractors, and so forth in the workplace. It also established what is now the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), a non-governmental public body charged with “encouraging, regulating and enforcing” workplace health, safety and welfare across a broad range of industry sectors from agriculture and engineering to haulage, mining and recycling. And, of course, the Armed Forces (at least within the UK and its territorial waters).

HEALTH AND SAFETY IN THE ARMED FORCES

Just like any employer, the Armed Forces have a duty of care to its people; in recent years, this has led to them providing more opportunities for serving personnel to gain not just on-the-job experience in health and safety matters, but also internationally recognised qualifications. If you don’t currently have any of the latter, it’s not too late; you can access a range of courses as part of your resettlement support from the Career Transition Partnership (CTP).

Having some kind of health and safety qualification in your back pocket is worth considering even if you have absolutely no intention of becoming an HSE inspector or an advisor back on civvy street. Such qualifications are proof that you already have a certain level of understanding in health and safety matters; potentially an invaluable point in your favour when applying for any role that includes supervisory or managerial duties, regardless of the specific sector or industry.

Specific health and safety qualifications are authorised by the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH); one of the most popular is the National General Certificate in Occupational Safety and Health which you can sit either through the CTP or with any of more than 400 NEBOSH-approved training providers, from the likes of Courses4Forces (do check if they have approved provider status when it comes to using your Enhanced Learning Credits) to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA). The exact delivery and timescale of the courses will vary between providers, but successfully completing it will essentially give you the equivalent of an A-level and a genuine understanding of the essentials of health and safety legislation, policies and procedures.

If you are looking to focus your career specifically on health and safety, a General Certificate is also recognised by the profession’s main membership body, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), as the academic requirement for its technician level of membership. (To gain this recognition, you will need to also show you have at least five years experience in a health and safety role.)

It is also, of course, an invaluable stepping stone to higher level qualifications, such as a NEBOSH Diploma in occupational health and safety or environmental management; these are a route towards Chartered membership of IOSH, although you will need to show you have completed at least two years of initial professional development in an approved health and safety environment.

DIFFERENT OPPORTUNITIES

Health and safety offers several main career areas. Risk assessors develop and use procedures to anticipate (and so avoid) hazards in public situations. Health and safety advisors ensure that safety legislation is followed effectively by helping staff and management devise and put in place appropriate procedures in the workplace. Health and safety inspectors, meantime, carry out on-site inspections of public and private sector operations (including offshore oil and gas facilities) and also investigate accidents and complaints about safety.

The majority of inspectors and assessors work within HSE, although there are of course opportunities in the private sector as businesses increasingly recognise that having good health and safety policies can make a positive contribution to their overall success. These roles can be within individual companies (either specifically focused on this role, or as part of a wider role) or as part of commercial consultancies which offer specialist health and safety services to their clients.

All health and safety advisers are expected to take advantage of any opportunities for continuing profession development (CPD) to enhance professional competencies and skills. Keeping your knowledge up to date is a requirement of IOSH membership, and the organisation’s My CPD scheme makes it easy to organise your CPD.

THE HEALTHY OPTION

Health and safety isn’t that far away from your life in the Armed Forces, so if you’re looking for skills that could be of real use in your future career, then your choice of health and safety qualification could become a natural and invaluable extension of your Military experience.

MORE:

HEALTH AND SAFETY EXECUTIVE – 0300 003 1747, www.hse.gov.uk

IOSH – 0116 257 3100, www.iosh.co.uk

NEBOSH – 0116 263 4700, www.nebosh.org.uk