How to Become a Health and Safety Officer: Key Roles and Responsibilities

May 2, 2022
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With a reported 38.8 million estimated working days lost due to work-related ill health in 2019/20, promoting health and safety in the workplace continues to be of utmost importance. 

By helping to prevent accidents, injuries, and any work-related illness, health and safety officers support their employer to ensure that staff are provided with a safe and secure environment to work in. Alongside the responsibility of the employer and employees to uphold health and safety at work, this role is centred around managing risks.

In this article, we explore how to become a health and safety officer, providing guidance on the roles and responsibilities involved, and tips to help you get started. We also look at which policies and procedures should be implemented in accordance with current legislation, so that you are able to make informed decisions when it comes to everyone’s safety.

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What is a Health and Safety Officer?

A health and safety officer is a qualified individual responsible for monitoring and controlling health and safety compliance in an organisation. As a health and safety officer, you continuously promote safety awareness by ensuring accident prevention and the correct health and safety measures are followed at all times.

Constant vigilance is a vital asset to any organisation in order to prevent any foreseeable accidents or injuries from occurring. It is imperative that health and safety officers are familiar with the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 and other relevant health and safety legislation. They should be aware of general duties, regulations and approved codes of practice, enforcement, obtaining and disclosure of information, and provisions.

In this role, you will need to maintain safety information, shape new protocols, and strengthen existing policies. Health and safety officers play a very important role in helping to protect people from harm, supporting a more efficient and productive place of work. 

By familiarising yourself with current legislation, you are one step closer to ensuring a constant safe environment to work in. Whether you work in an office, on construction sites, or even in a school, becoming a health and safety officer is a rewarding career. 

As a health and safety officer, you have the opportunity to specialise in one specific area, such as first aid or fire safety, or you may want to provide guidance on any safety related issues. Whichever route you take, you will be responsible for supporting your employer to maintain a high standard of health and safety and ensure employees’ welfare and well-being is protected at all times.

Health and Safety Officer Roles and Responsibilities

Both you and your organisation have certain responsibilities to uphold when it comes to protecting those at work and who may be affected by the business’s work activities (e.g. members of the public). As a health and safety officer, your principal responsibility is to ensure the safety of all individuals at all times, and you will have a wide range of duties to accomplish this. Officers should be aware of their roles and responsibilities in order to support their employer in ensuring the ongoing effectiveness of control measures put in place by the competent person (who may be the employer, the health and safety officer, or someone else).

Typically, health and safety officers focus on inspecting the workplace areas to ensure compliance with relevant legislation. It is part of their duty to familiarise themselves with common workplace hazards and understand how to manage these if they become risks. This can help you to make informed decisions when it comes to developing and supporting effective policies.

In general, health and safety officers could be responsible for:

  • Constantly monitoring and assessing hazardous or unsafe situations.
  • Creating health and safety policies tailored to the specific work activities.
  • Implementing health and safety procedures. 
  • Carrying out risk assessments.
  • Testing electrical equipment.
  • Assessing previous accidents and determining what went wrong and how this could be prevented.
  • Maintaining contact with those off work due to illness or injury.
  • Distributing relevant information on accident prevention. 
  • Identifying which individuals need protecting from potential hazards
  • Consistently communicating with employees.
  • Supporting employees and arranging training where necessary. 
  • Communicating with the first aider and/or appointed person on provision, such as first aid kits.
  • Undergoing relevant health and safety training to keep knowledge up to date.

Health and safety officers are responsible for leading health and safety practices through policies which utilise plan, do, check, and act. 

  • Plan – set the direction for effective health and safety management. 
  • Do – introduce practices that ensure risks are dealt with sensibly and responsibly.
  • Check – monitor and make recommendations.
  • Act – carry out a formal review of health and safety performance.

By following these four steps, no matter where you work, you are ensuring that health and safety is effectively managed in the workplace at all times. 

As a health and safety officer, your principal responsibility is to ensure all individuals are kept safe and healthy at all times. However, remember that it is the employer’s duty to create this work environment and for you to support them in achieving and maintaining this on their behalf.

All employees are entitled to work in an environment where any risks to their health and safety are properly controlled and they will be safe and healthy. Although it is the health and safety officer’s duty to help maintain these measures, workers have a duty to take care of their own health and safety, and that of others, too. They must cooperate with both those they work with and their employers and follow all instructions and their training at all times. If they have any specific queries or concerns relating to health and safety in their workplace, they must talk to their health and safety officer immediately. These actions help to ensure the work environment is a safe and healthy one at all times.

Depending on the environment you choose to work in, your responsibilities as a health and safety officer may differ. For example, a health and safety officer working on a construction site will have varying responsibilities compared to those who work in education, healthcare or an office.

Is Health and Safety a Good Career?

No matter what industry or environment you choose to work in, unfortunately accidents do happen. In your role as a health and safety officer, you will have the opportunity to work with employees to control risks and promote a positive working environment. With this in mind, a health and safety officer could be an incredibly fulfilling role if you are keen to help others.

Not only do you have the potential to save lives, with the flexibility of working in a range of industries for businesses of all different types and sizes, you have the ability to work all over the world. If so, you need to be aware of the relevant legislation and laws of the country in which the business is based. With the right knowledge and skills, you can reap the benefits whilst promoting a positive health and safety culture in your workplace.

For example, promoting positive health and safety in a school is important to a number of people, from pupils to teachers, governors and parents. Therefore, it is a health and safety officer’s duty to be the focal point for the school’s health and safety management arrangements.

A health and safety officer is an essential role in every organisation, whether you opt to work as part of an in-house team, independently, or for a larger organisation. Becoming a health and safety officer is a job in which anyone with the right skill set and qualifications can undertake effectively.

How to Start a Career in Health and Safety

It takes either a university degree, apprenticeship or training through a professional body to become a health and safety officer. The level at which you are entering this occupation determines the steps you should take in order to fully prepare for the role. From gaining the relevant qualifications to applying, the process of becoming a health and safety officer can typically take somewhere between one to five years.

Skills Required

  • Good communication skills.
  • Good knowledge base on health and safety.
  • An eye for detail.
  • Problem solving skills.
  • Writing skills.
  • Organisational skills.

College Courses and Apprenticeships

Usually, you are required to have 2 to 3 A Levels or the equivalent for a qualification if you choose this pathway. Or, for an apprenticeship you typically need 5 GCSEs at grade 9-4 (A*-C). 

Other Qualifications

Whilst an in-depth knowledge and understanding may help in getting you started, there are also certain training qualifications required. This can vary depending on the setting in which you wish to work, however, either way, it is crucial to keep your training regularly updated. 

Our health and safety training courses may act as evidence of industry-related training for accreditation applications, offering a gateway towards a hugely enriching career. The recommended renewal period for health and safety training will vary depending on industry best practice guidelines, but is typically between one to three years depending on the type of training.

If you wish to become a health and safety officer having already pursued a different career path, there are other routes you can take whilst working. For example, you could study for a health and safety qualification part-time or online alongside your day-to-day job.

Becoming a health and safety officer comes with huge responsibilities. Supporting employee well-being and managing workplace risks can make all environments a safer, more successful place to work. A health and safety officer is an essential role in every organisation, whether you opt to work as part of an in-house team, independently, or for a larger organisation. Becoming a health and safety officer is a job in which anyone with the right skill set and qualifications can undertake effectively.

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