Finding the balance between a career that offers a niche specialisation, a career that’s rewarding, and a vocation that is in a field that is never going to become obsolete or be replaced with automation can feel tough. Yet for people with a meticulous eye, a sense of self-discipline and a keen understanding of personal well-being, health & safety jobs can prove rewarding on every level.
Of course, even for someone who already has experience in the field, this is hardly the kind of vocation one can simply stroll into. That said, it’s not the kind of job that’s obstructively difficult to break into either – and from the best courses to the transferable skills you can bring to this role, you’ll find that there’s every reason to feel encouraged in pursuing a career in the health & safety industry.
What to expect when working in health & safety
Most of us have encountered a health & safety specialist or inspector at some point during our professional lives, but these are all just glimpses compared to what it’s actually like grabbing the clipboard for yourself, or memorising the rules and regulations you’re expected to help upkeep.
Having a strong eye for detail, a sense of compassion and, of course, the appropriate qualifications are all vital to your employability as a health & safety specialist. Employees can tell when empathy is real or faked, so being able to see things from their point of view for both physical and mental health issues is key.
Perhaps one of the biggest elements to keep in mind is that, at least until recently, especially egregious interpretations of health & safety have been seen as more of a hindrance than a help – and some practitioners of this craft have a reputation for being over-the-top. However, as long as you’re able to communicate how the rules you’re enforcing are in everyone’s best interests, and aren’t designed to nitpick or criticise, all ought to be well.
This is far more than an office role that involves sitting around all day filing reports and documents. You’ll be sought out for advice, responsible for site inspections, in charge of the removal of hazardous materials from the workplace, and oversee the installation of new equipment of all kinds. Those craving a career with much in the way of autonomy, responsibility and variety will enjoy a role like this.
Do companies only hire experienced health & safety personnel?
Every jobseeker understands the classic paradox of wanting to pursue a role, but not having the relevant experience — which can only be gained by being allowed to learn through such a role.
Luckily, health & safety needn’t be like that. Having qualifications at your back through an appropriate course can give you the confidence, knowledge and good standing you need to get started as a health & safety co-ordinator or specialist consultant. Around half of health and safety job advertisements will specify that you need a NEBOSH qualification in order to apply, and if you’ve already got your foot in the door in terms of a H&S career, then upskilling in this way can also get you a salary increase in many cases.
That said, building on your knowledge base through a course or rigorous self-education can also help those who have experience in the health & safety sector hone their skills further, or become eligible for a more senior role.
The personal touch is vital too
Many a worker, whether in a hands-on career or an office environment, has a story about a clipboard-waving health & safety specialist who went around barking orders and criticising everyone’s work. As you might imagine, this kind of outdated approach rarely goes down well.
A down-to-earth health & safety practitioner who’s able to effectively communicate why health & safety is important, instead of blithely insisting everyone complies with the rules without explaining any context, stands a better chance of getting employees truly involved with health and safety from day-to-day.
Consider also that this role will often see you dealing directly with unwell people, or people who have been injured and feel angry or distressed by how this has happened to them at work. Defusing their agitation and demonstrating, on behalf of the entire company, that they are cared for and valuable, is a vital skill to have.
Physical ailments are only one factor in the health side of this job, and it’s important to also consider how important mental health and emotional well-being are becoming to the world of work. This is as much your responsibility as it is that of your office HR manager, and being able to deal with often highly sensitive and personal issues tactfully and with patience is a key component to ongoing success in the health & safety world.
More than anything, it’s important to get into the health & safety sector with a good understanding of one simple truth, and that’s that this sector is evolving all of the time. Things as diverse as changing perspectives on mental health and how hotter summers are affecting how we work all have a role in making this career path challenging and ever-changing.
With the right qualifications, a good attitude and a keenness to make learning an ongoing part of your career, finding your first, or next, health and safety role, might be a very simple thing indeed.