So you want a career in Health and Safety?

So you want a career in Health and Safety?

I like other web publishers and bloggers monitor traffic on my sites. I really like to know how many visits I get in a day and where the traffic is coming come. I also like to know what keywords people use for their google searches that sends them to my site.

Recently, someone searched using this statement – “where can I volunteer as a Safety Officer in Nigeria?”

So I take it that one of you made a search on how to start a Health and Safety Career, and it led you straight to my website. Nice! Honestly, I wasn’t surprised to see this as it is an area I know many people have problems with. I get approached on LinkedIn on this same topic – many are confused and sort of feel hopeless.

Many want to get into Health and Safety and do not have a clue how to go about it. Employers want you to have a million years experience, which sometimes is ridiculous.

I have had chats with people who are frustrated with not being given the chance to show they can do the job.

One thing they do not realise, is that Health and Safety is such a special and delicate field and no employer wants to get it wrong, especially with the staff they put in charge of it.

It is the same way you would choose one doctor over the other and will frown at the student doctor who the experienced doctor sends your way. You are thinking – hell no, don’t use my life to practise your medicine, right? You prefer if they stayed next to the experienced doctor and just watched right? Even though in your heart of hearts, you know they need to get hands-on to get experienced. Same challenge you are facing.

The same thing goes for Safety. One way or the other, people’s lives are involved and shouldn’t be messed with. Have you ever thought of Safety that way? Or do you see it as a means to an end? You just need a job, right? Or everyone seems to be studying NEBOSH and you feel you want to be just like them right? Or maybe your friend is a trainer and he gets paid hundreds or thousand of Pounds per training session, so why should you miss out on this, right?I doubt it.

As I said earlier, Safety is special and delicate and must be your career choice for really good reasons. You need to have a passion for it and it must be evident. Friends have often told me that when I talk about my role in Health and Safety, they see a glow – not sure what they are on about, but they say they can see I really love my job. They see I love and know my stuff. Can people say the same thing about you?

Still want to go into Safety? If yes, then let me tell you what you need to do to get there – but first let me tell you how I made my first break. The first break is all you need and the rest is history.

How I started my Safety Career

I studied Biomedical Science at University of Bedfordshire. I did that for 3 years and really wanted to study Medicine once I was through with Biomedical Science but this was not to be.

In my 2nd year at Uni, I knew Medicine wasn’t for me even though I had dreamed of becoming a Doctor since I was a child. After graduation, I tried to get a job with the NHS to work in one of their laboratories but in my heart of hearts, I didn’t want to work in a hospital environment. I didn’t want to see people sick especially if they weren’t going to get better. I didn’t want to do tests and confirm they had Cancer or some incurable disease. I was never shortlisted. I bless God for that.

So I decided to do a Masters and change my field completely.

Bioinformatics seemed to be in vogue but one day while reading the papers, I saw an advert for HSE inspectors with the UK Health and Safety Executive. I researched the role and liked what I saw.

Wow, I thought the job was me and I was the job. I have a tough side and can’t tolerate complacence. I really wanted to make a difference. I applied for the job but I wasn’t shortlisted for an interview. Ah well. There will be other opportunities I said to myself.

I then applied for and studied for a Masters in Occupational Health and Safety Management at Brunel University.

Due to my experience with searching for work, I knew that experience was more important than my certificates so I sought out to gain experience while I studied for my masters, even if it was a part time role.

I searched online and found a volunteering opportunity with Prism Safety Management and was quickly accepted but was working from home since they were far away in Doncaster. With Prism, I did mainly risk assessments, policies, created health surveillance questionnaires and related tasks. I started 2 months before my Masters programme was to take off.

Some 6 months later, I then subsequently found a job vacancy to work at the London Hazards Centre as a part time Health and Safety Advice and Training Worker. I applied and was invited for an interview and though they had to settle for someone with more experience, they offered me a chance to volunteer once a week.

Oh my goodness!

I grabbed this opportunity and did it for about 18 months. Of course, I had a part-time job working as a Support Officer in Housing and Social Care, so of course my rent and bills were kind of sorted.

On days I was free from Uni and work, I would meet with one of the Safety Officers and go on inspections with him. I was given the chance to be more involved in their work not the typical volunteer role of doing ordinary admin tasks.

I created an asbestos information pack which they thought was epic but now when I look at it I think it was really crappy lol. My new me can certainly do better lol. I would write articles and factsheets for their quarterly newsletters, update their database with client info, jobs and enquiries. At the same time, still helping Prism out.

I was learning fast.

One day, 2 of the safety officers at London Hazards Centre got sacked – I heard it was because they weren’t doing their job.

Honestly, the job came with lots of freedom since you were meant to be out visiting clients and making new ones so it was easy to fall short if you aren’t strong willed. I guess they were victim to this freedom.

So yes one day I got a call asking me if I wanted paid work with them. Hell yeah! I resumed immediately without an interview. Hallelujah! I just hate interviews. I was told I did more as a volunteer than both of them put together. So my hard work and dedication paid off? Honestly, I never expected to get paid work with them. I was going to get experience as a volunteer and go else where to work but I guess God had other plans.

That was in 2011. I have never looked back and was mainly involved in our quarterly publications, research and writing, training, audits and inspections, risk assessments and developing policies of many kinds. It was there I started writing Health and Safety articles. After over 3 years of working with them, I went freelance since their funding situation was shaky and they had to let us go.

I started freelancing as I was now used to having control over my work and needed it to stay that way. The rest is history.

Let’s stop there.

start health and safety career

How you can start a career in Health and Safety

Okay. Okay. I hope you read the above especially where I go into great detail telling you how I started in this beautiful profession and what I did to help myself gain the necessary skills and knowledge. Did you pick anything out? Let me give you 5 minutes to re-read it and highlight 5 areas you think helped me excel.

You done? Not so fast tiger. I really want you to ponder on my story so I am going to give you a couple of minutes and then I will tell you how you can maybe imitate me and maybe even be better in the next section. I am going to pick out the main points from my experience and build on it.

Now I am going to tell you how you can get into Safety. No I am not going to employ you neither am I going to tell you who is presently recruiting in your area. I get this kind of emails often especially on LinkedIn. I will share with what courses you should do, to qualities you must have and how to get your first break. Read my disclaimer at the end of this post.

1. Get qualified by attending the right course/training

As much as I say experience is way better than certifications and qualifications, you still need to have the right certifications. You could be certified and/or qualified and not have experience, so qualifications really don’t do it for me. However, they are useful and most of the time will help get you to the interview. There is nothing like getting qualified while you work and learn. It is just the best way to go about things.

To get qualified, I usually suggest starting with the NEBOSH certificate.

There are other qualifications like:
ABIOSH (a relatively less famous professional body with some really cool courses like the Process Safety Management and even the HAZOP/HAZID and many more),
NVQ Occupational Health and Safety Level 3 and 5 by City and Guild (my favourite)
– or even a Postgraduate certificate, diploma or Masters like I did. To mention a few
– I now provide certified training and mentoring for those want to become school safety practitioners. You can visit the course page for more details.

Masters can be really expensive especially for international students – I spent thousands of £s when I did mine in 2009/2010.

There is Masters program at other Universities, maybe even in your countries, but it is not one of the IOSH approved providers, you will not be guaranteed a GradIOSH title.

I did my Masters at Brunel University, London in 2009/10 but to the best of my knowledge, they no longer offer the course. However there are others you can study with – Universities like Greenwich, Portsmouth, Surrey, Heriot Watt and many others. The course name and contents might vary slightly but as long as they are listed as IOSH approved/accredited qualifications you are good to go.

Portsmouth and Heriot Watt offer a distance learning program for those who want to remain in their jobs, rather than take the risk of leaving it to study and returning to nothing. It’s also for those who have strong self-control and know how to not procrastinate. Work if left undone for a long time, can pile up pretty fast.

NVQ versus NEBOSH

Oh how I love the idea of an NVQ. Not sure when it started but I believe it was after my Masters program because I know I would have gone this route if it was available years before I discovered it. If you hate writing exams, the NVQ is for you as you gain and show competence on the job rather than in an exam. Yipee!

The NVQ is obviously my preferred choice over the NEBOSH, as the NVQ is designed in a way that you learn as you work and even apply what you learn immediately at the same time to work. So basically, to do the NVQ, you should ideally be in employment of some kind. Answers to many of your course work can only be truly provided by your experience in the workplace. Nothing beats that.

The NEBOSH can be done whether you are employed or not and via distance learning if you choose. I have no problems with NEBOSH as it still provides you with the skills to start work as a Safety officer, especially the Diploma which is more detailed and tougher – not for the faint hearted. Then again, the NVQ 5 is just like the NEBOSH Diploma – you do get GradIOSH once certified. So it really is your choice. Which do you pick?

2. Gain experience and remember money isn’t everything

I will advice you find somewhere to volunteer while you are studying for the NEBOSH or whatever course you decide to go for. Volunteering gives you experience that can go on your CV. Make sure your time volunteering is not wasted on photocopying paper or on social media except that is what you were employed to do.

Most times, volunteering means you don’t get paid. That is a really hard thing to do as money is so important, the economy is a miserable mess and bills need to be paid. Money is necessary after all, why do we all have jobs and businesses? The problem with money is the love of it. So to volunteer you must have a mind that sees money as nothing. A mind that is satisfied with just getting by for “the now” knowing that soon, things will certainly get better plus you must work towards it not just hope.

Think of money as nothing. Only by thinking this way can you truly volunteer and do it well.

When I volunteered I got paid nothing except money for lunch and transportation. As a student, transport fare was an issue especially in “expensive” London. Students did get 30% discount off transport which was a huge relief but I was happy my employers paid for my weekly travel-card which cost me about £23 (or thereabout) at the time. I hardly had lunch on them but when I did, the money was refunded as long as I submitted a receipt. This was good enough for me.

Even if the employer decides to only pay your transport for the day, accept it in good faith. Where no transport and/or lunch is paid for, please dust their sand off your feet and walk away. It takes a lot of determination and will-power to work for free so even if you do it, do it with some dignity and for people who care about you and your wellbeing.

I once had an intern who flew in from Germany to work with me for 10 weeks sometime in 2013. It wasn’t for a Safety role and of course, it was an unpaid role as I couldn’t afford paying salaries then. It was an important part of her University work and she really wanted to come to London rather than intern in Germany. I made sure to pay her transport and provide her with lunch everyday. Sometimes we worked from my flat and I often cooked lunch – those were her favourite lunch times. She worked so hard and I really missed her when she returned to Germany. We stayed in touch.

Get a place where you can volunteer. But how? you may ask.

Truth is multinationals and the large corporate organisations might not be willing to take you on. They have enough hands. Many who do, do it as a favour to their very important clients or to really close relatives.

I usually suggest going for small organisations and startups. We usually are short on funds and need help. Search for them and send your CV and cover letter telling them you are looking for a volunteering role in their organisation – be sure to state what department you want to work in. Be specific. Tell them what skills you have and why you chose them. Don’t be vague so you don’t get rejected or stationed you at the photocopier.

One important thing to note is that when applying for volunteering roles, treat the application like you would treat an application to a job that will pay you 7 figures. Fill the application properly and sell yourself the best you can. I am saying this because I always reject applications that scream “I don’t give a s**t about you or your business. I just need to gain experience”. Yes like those emails where you send your CV to me and a bunch of others at the same time. It just screams you are too unprofessional and impatient to send an email to just me, or just them and not bothered about “looking good”. What is so wrong with sending out hundreds of individual applications? Yeah time consuming but worth it at the end.

3. Work like you are being paid top $

Your first role might not yield much by way of salary but it is your first break and should not be toiled with. Sometimes you can get lucky and have a really good first role like the lucky few who get into multinationals. Your actions and how you do your job will either make or break your career.

Don’t complain about management strolling into work at 10am, when you got there before 7am. It is really none of your business. They were once like you, and have really paid their dues and deserve to be king.

Whether you choose to believe it or not, management have more stress than you can imagine so don’t envy them too much. Do you know if they were in meetings till late into the night and needed a couple hours more sleep before coming into the office? Do not make assumptions. Just get on with the job. One day you will look back and just smile.

Do more than is required if you are given the chance whether volunteering or not. Like I did, be willing to go on visits with and learn from the Senior Safety workers. Watch how they talk with customers, the questions they ask and how they go about their tasks. Take notes and ask them questions afterwards. Don’t be afraid to ask why they did something in a certain way or why they asked the customer that question.

I also read alot. Although I like to learn things my way and usually question the norm, that doesn’t stop me from reading what is out there and learning new stuff.

If you are in a job and you are not learning anything new or getting better at the job then you are wasting your time. One way you can learn is by asking the older member of staff for tasks you can help them complete. Make sure you do it well and with time you will be given more important tasks to complete. Make sure that as you do it, you ask questions to make sure you are doing it the right way. You don’t want to spend hours on a task only to have it thrown in the bin.

4. Challenge yourself

Push yourself to learn things yourself. Google is your friend and has lots of free resources. I remember the first time I came across HAZOP. I didn’t have money to go on the course, had just finished my masters and knew I needed to get better. The typical me went online and found many resources and began to study them, wrote things down as I learnt them. This is what I have done with other topics in Health and Safety, and even created courses out of what I learnt online and my experiences.

You might not have the funds to do what you really need to do but there is always a way out. Learn something new as often as you can. Remember Safety is so wide, no one person knows it all but you can become an expert in your chosen area and grow in it. Even if it’s just designing Safety courses – a field I have much love for and trying really hard to grow in.

5. Follow me

Now this looks like a joke but it isn’t entirely a joke. I write often about stuff like this just so you can be “HSE wise” or even wiser ;). Send me emails and messages. Ask direct questions. I do my best to reply to such emails myself. From time to time, I hold virtual training groups and sessions. If you are on my mailing list, you will get an invite every time one is scheduled. Enter your email in the box below!

Got any questions? Ask away.

P.S. For information about my course, click here.

Here is a disclaimer

I am not guaranteeing that you will get paid work if you decide to volunteer. Even when you volunteer and do all Jesus would do, employers might not care about it enough to keep you on. Always have this at the back of your mind.

© Professor Ike
#BeHSEWise

Professor Ike

Professor Ike is a Certified Health and Safety specialist, safety courses creator, and the Author of the school safety book - The Making of a Total School. My goal is to help Health & Safety companies get noticed and give great value to their customers, by writing quality health, safety and well-being content for their blogs and social media pages.
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