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Health and Safety Officer: what they do and how to become one

The growing demand for Health and Safety Officers continues to grow apace. With 38.8 million working days lost due to work-related illness and workplace injury, it is no surprise that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has found that the estimated cost of injuries and ill health from current working conditions exceeded £16 billion across 2018-2019.  

Present across an array of industries, organisations, trade unions and groups, this multifaceted role can be reached at any stage of your career. We outline what the role will involve and what training you’ll need to become a fully-fledged HSO. 

What does a Health and Safety Officer do?

A Health and Safety Officer (HSO) is responsible for minimising or removing the risk of accidents, work-related illnesses and injuries in the workplace. They maintain the safety information of an organisation and promote safety compliance by shaping new protocols and strengthening existing health and safety policies. They must also ensure that their organisation adheres to occupational health and safety regulations set out by the government and relevant industry bodies. 

Health and Safety Officers typically work regular office hours (9am–5pm, Monday–Friday). However, depending on the industry or organisation you work in, your employer may require you to work irregular hours. You may also be placed ‘on call’ at weekends or evenings in case you need to respond to an accident or emergency. 

Key responsibilities

A health and safety executive’s responsibilities include: 

  • Ensuring robust compliance to health and safety laws and organisational policies. 
  • Completing risk assessments, site inspections, and internal audits.  
  • Keeping abreast of ongoing legal matters – understanding how health and safety legislation can impact organisations and industry standards.  
  • Investigating and recording workplace accidents and work-related illnesses, writing up reports where required. 
  • Developing new health and safety policy procedures in line with existing rules and regulations. 
  • Conducting in-house training sessions to teach employees about company policies and health and safety issues. 
  • Educating organisations on fire safety, the handling and disposal of hazardous substances, and installing and utilising safety equipment and machinery. 

What is a Health and Safety Adviser?

There is no clear distinction between the role of a Health and Safety Adviser and a Health and Safety Officer. While “employers are legally required to ensure that people who have health, safety and welfare responsibilities in the workplace are competent”, there is no legally defined job title. Health and Safety Officer is often favoured by hiring managers in public sector roles, although this is not exclusive, and the two titles tend to be used synonymously. 

Salary expectations

Careers in health and safety are wide-ranging and can be highly rewarding. The starting salary for a Health and Safety Officer is typically between £24,000 to £32,000, but managerial roles can attract a salary of up to £55,000. Those in head, directorial or specialist roles in areas such as construction can expect to earn around £70,000 to £80,000. 

If you’d like to become a Health and Safety Inspector, trainee salaries start from around £26,000 – exact income will depend on location, specialism, and responsibilities. After two years of training, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) salaries range between £30,000 to £38,000. Those who have completed up to five years of training can expect a salary from £35,000 to £50,000. Head of department and specialist roles offer a salary of up to £90,000. 

Essential qualities and skills

If you’re interested in becoming a health and safety officer, it is essential to have good communication and interpersonal skills – you’ll be liaising with a multitude of stakeholders. You must also work well under pressure, on your own and within a team, and be confident in training and delivering important information and guidance.  

Other key qualities and skills include: 

  • Comprehensive knowledge of Health and Safety rules and regulations 
  • Good organisational and problem-solving skills 
  • Attention to detail to spot various hazards and complete investigations. 
  • Process-driven and the ability to use your initiative. 
  • Strong writing skills for creating reports and policies. 
  • Diplomacy and discretion, as well as robust negotiation skills. 

While HSOs are predominately office-based, Health and Safety Inspectors are required to work at several locations and environments, potentially at different heights or in smaller spaces, depending on your industry. You must be comfortable working in these situations and be prepared to wear the appropriate protective clothing or equipment. While an inspector works for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or local authority, an HSO works for the company. 

Training and qualifications

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999  states that you must have “sufficient training and experience”. While you don’t need a degree to start a career in health and safety, you will need some form or relevant formal education and training. Here are the most common entry routes and requirements:  

  • Advanced apprenticeship: 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent, including English and Maths. 
  • Higher or degree apprenticeship: 4 or 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) and A-levels, or equivalent. 
  • Degree: 2-3 A-levels, or equivalent to complete a degree. 
  • Postgraduate course or diploma acknowledged by IOSH: degree plus experience or relevant job role. 

If you wish to become a Health and Safety Inspector, a degree in the area in which you wish to specialise, such as engineering or physical and applied sciences, would be advantageous. 

If you are already in employment, you could study for a health and safety qualification while you're working via a part-time or remote course.  

Complete the IOSH Working Safely course

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), is one of the world’s leading health and safety organisations and British Safety Council is proud to offer the IOSH Working Safely three-day course, which is aimed at managers and supervisors wishing to improve their knowledge and skills or those ready take the step into management.  

Health and safety topics covered include: 

  • Hazard identification 
  • Assessing and controlling risks 
  • Accident investigation 
  • Measuring performance. 

Taught by industry-leading experts, the course can be delivered in your workplace or online. You also have up to one year to complete the certification, providing you with the ultimate choice and flexibility.  

 Learn more about the IOSH Working Safely certificate