1 September 2021
How to Become a Health, Safety and Environment Officer
A health, safety and environment (HSE) officer is responsible for promoting and maintaining the health and safety (H&S) culture within the company. But how do you become one?
A health, safety and environment (HSE) officer is responsible for promoting and maintaining the health and safety (H&S) culture within the company. Also, they make sure that everyone in the company follows safety policies under the law. Furthermore, an HSE officer can work with various organisations ranging from small companies to multinationals.
Many government agencies and private companies require the services of HSE officers. Based on the work requirement, you might work either full time or per project. Also, you might work either in an office or in the field. Furthermore, the job may entail frequent travel, safety investigations and checking incident reports. So, if you’re interested in this kind of work, here are some more details.
Health, safety and environment defined
It’s a discipline or speciality that studies how to implement the practical promotion and maintenance of a worker’s physical, mental and social well-being. It’s what organisations must do to protect employees from becoming ill caused by poor working conditions.
The importance of the Health and Safety Executive
The Health and Safety Executive is the UK’s regulator, whose goal is to prevent illness, injury and even death in the workplace. To accomplish this mandate, they are authorised to visit businesses and:
- Make inspections.
- Conduct investigations.
- Provide advice and guidance.
- Enforce the law.
- Receive reports or complaints.
HSE also needs to ensure that every company has:
A clean workplace
The workplace plays a significant role in workers’ productivity and well-being. So, by maintaining a clean working environment, the company keeps its employees efficient, healthy and safe. While it’s easy to put off cleaning a busy workplace, companies risk accidents or illness. If that happens, a sick or injured employee won’t be able to work productively. Also, a clean environment can reduce a worker’s health cost while boosting or maintaining efficiency.
A safe and healthy environment
Ideally, employees should work without fear of injury or death. However, accidents and injuries do occur. Fortunately, an HSE officer can reduce such risks by recommending or implementing safety programmes and procedures. It may require cost and adjustment, but the benefits far outweigh them.
Legal cover and responsibility
The Health and Safety Act 1974 is the primary UK law that covers workplace H&S. There are also other rules enforced by the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities. Other environmental and safety regulations include:
- Agriculture Act 1956 – Safety, Health and Welfare Provisions
- Environment and Safety Information Act 1988
- Explosives Act 1875
- Factories Act 1961
- Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008
- Offshore Safety Act 1992
An HSE officer can expect to do the following tasks:
- Conduct risk assessments and list all the possible ways to reduce them.
- Set up safety operational procedures that will identify any hazards in the workplace.
- Regularly inspect the work area to ensure that company policies and procedures are followed.
- Make sure that the company supports safe work practices and complies with the law.
- Help the company develop H&S strategies and plans.
- Conduct in-house H&S training for managers and employees.
- Make a note of review findings and suggest improvements.
- List all workplace accidents and incidents for reporting and statistical purposes.
- Keep up to date with H&S legislation that will affect the company.
- Help write management reports, including bulletins and newsletters.
- Make sure that all equipment is installed and operated safely.
- Ensure that the company disposes of all waste and hazardous substances safely.
- Provide advice with regards to particular topics, such as occupational illnesses, safeguarding company equipment and fire risks.
The first step in your H&S career
H&S is viewed as a second career by those who hold degrees in other academic fields. Often, overseeing workplace safety is considered as an additional role.
To qualify as an H&S professional, you’ll probably need to undertake some post-graduate study.
If you’re interested in becoming an HSE officer, you’ll be likely to need at least a 2:2 degree or its equivalent. Also, a basic knowledge of H&S will help. Consider taking any of the following courses:
- Certificate in Applied Health and Safety from National Compliance and Risk Qualifications (NCRQ).
- National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety from the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH).
- National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety from NEBOSH.
- Level 6 Diploma in Occupational Safety and Health from the British Safety Council.
- Level 5 (NVQ) Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety Practice from City & Guilds.
- Level 6 Diploma in Applied Health and Safety from NCRQ.
Other ways to become an HSE officer
You can still become an HSE officer, even without a degree. However, you’ll need a combination of a suitable H&S qualification and experience.
You can also undertake short introductory courses that can advance your career as an HSE officer. However, you’ll need either the Certificate in Applied Health and Safety (NCRQ) or the National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety (NEBOSH) as a minimum requirement.
It’s also useful to have a background or experience in industries such as:
- Risk assessment.
- Fast moving consumer goods (FMCG).
Skills and knowledge required
You’ll need to convincingly exhibit the following:
- Skill in both written and spoken communication: you’ll need to explain H&S concepts and procedures to a variety of audiences.
- Negotiating ability: you’ll need to convince supervisors and managers to implement safety standards that can affect the speed and efficiency of the company’s operations.
- Diplomacy: the job requires patience to secure everyone’s cooperation.
- Analytical: you’ll need to understand complex ideas while presenting them in simple but accurate terms.
- Attention to detail.
- Skilled in IT.
- Flexible with working hours.
- Ability to comprehend H&S law and regulations.
- Physically fit: this is a requirement if you’re working on outdoor sites or in large-scale work environments.
- Ability to drive: this is essential if the role involves travelling between work areas.
If you’re interested in working in a specific industry, it pays to gain useful H&S experience. For example, if you want to work in the construction industry, gain some expertise in their H&S department.
You can gain employment in various industries, such as:
- Chemicals or related fields.
- Education and training.
- Fire, rescue and the emergency services.
- Restaurants and catering.
- Hospitals and clinics.
- Hotels and inns.
- Manufacturing, industrial and processing facilities.
- Large corporations.
- Government and regulatory agencies.
- Oil and gas companies.
- Telecom companies.
Training and advancement
You can gain valuable learning while working and can complement that with in-house and external training courses. In the UK, if you still don’t have the professional qualifications, consider obtaining training from:
- City and Guilds.
- British Safety Council.
Any qualifications from the institutions listed above can meet the academic requirements for the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) graduate membership. You can also advance to IOSH chartered membership (CMIOSH) by completing a two-year initial professional development (IPD) course. Afterwards, you’ll need to continue your studies through continuing professional development (CPD).
Membership with IOSH or the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management (IIRSM) can help advance your career and CPD studies. You’ll also have opportunities for networking and meeting new people. Furthermore, many UK-based HSE officers are either members of the British Safety Council, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) or both.
If you want to specialise in a particular industry, such as offshore oil and gas or nuclear safety, ensure that you obtain the necessary experience. Afterwards, you can move to a managerial position or head up a team of officers. You may also choose to be a consultant handing out advice.
To advance your HSE career in the UK, you may interact with the following groups:
- Health and Safety Executive.
- British Safety Council.
- City & Guilds.
HSE officers play an essential role in various organisations and industries. The role’s main objective is to ensure people’s safety in the workplace. In countries such as the UK, there are various ways to become an HSE officer. This includes academic qualifications, certification or both. You can choose to specialise in particular industries, such as offshore oil and gas or nuclear safety. However, you’ll need to obtain the necessary experience. Afterwards, you can move to a managerial position or head up a team of officers. You may also choose to be a consultant handing out specific advice to a particular industry.