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A profile of health and safety

in the workplace

Health and safety is an area of work that is seldom far from the news, be it the role of health and safety officers in dealing with public events or their subsequent views on high profile accidents or incidents.

With this public-facing aspect (be it in person or in the impact of officers’ work) now becoming more and more a part of the role of those engaged in health it is vital that both employers and employees retain a solid grasp of the legislation that shapes their work. It is the cornerstone of the profession and only a continual programme of learning will ensure that health and safety officers and the bodies that they work for are not held up to unnecessary public scrutiny.

Supposed over-zealous application of rules pertaining to health and safety are often used as stick to beat the profession as a whole, so an accurate and up-to-date working knowledge of the law as it stands gives an authority to staff as they go about their work. It also instils a sense of trust in the members of the public or other staff that health and safety officers and mangers interact with. Health and safety can be a rewarding industry to work in, but even a partial lack of knowledge can make it all the more difficult.

Health and safety officers entering the job will need at least the NEBOSH (National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health) national general certificate. Though the post is one in which lifelong learning is very much encouraged. A NEBOSH diploma is also available for those who wish to undertake further study and this is a gateway to managerial health and safety jobs.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is the main piece of legislation that governs the workload of health and safety officers, though new laws from the UK and EU can also constantly impact on their work. These new rules generally start on either 6 April or 1 October each year, with the Health and Safety Executive providing online updates of enforced or expected changes to the law, with detailed lists of Acts and Statutory Instruments available to download.

There are no major pieces of upcoming legislation due to come into power, with those about to be enacted mostly concerning the continuation of offshore working regulations. But the inception of a new government can usually be expected to impact on the work of health and safety officers. The new administration looks to be one that will have even more impact on their work than past governments, as it has made clarification of health and safety rules a major plank of its programme for its first term in office.

Lord Young, acting on behalf of the Prime Minister, has outlined plans whereby councils will have to compensate organisations that have sporting events, fêtes or other events cancelled due to what is seen as spurious application of health and safety legislation. However, health and safety professional body the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has rebutted such concerns, stating that organisations often use over zealous application of health and safety legislation as an excuse for cancelling events due to what is actually a lack of money.

The IOSH often speaks out on behalf of health and safety employees, but they are also very much a part of ensuring that health and safety professionals maintain and improve their skill levels. Health and safety is a profession where it is useful to have specialist knowledge, but it is just as important to have a broad knowledge of all areas of where health and safety is applied. This means that health and safety officers and managers can work across industry and have transferable skills when they decide to move onwards or upwards in their careers.

The IOSH offers training in areas such as risk assessment and safety management, though its members also benefit from a continuing professional development programme. This seeks to identify skills gaps and train those employed in health and safety jobs to fill them, while also guiding health and safety staff on a career path that suits them. It also provides the opportunity for those in health and safety jobs to train in areas they may not have worked in, thus making them a far more attractive prospect for promotion or for new employers.

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