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What Qualifications do you Need to Work in Occupational Health?

Published on: 25 Aug 2015

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to have a multitude of certifications or qualifications to work in the Occupational Health/Health and Safety fields.

In many smaller companies, Health and Safety advisors/managers are actually promoted from within based on their enthusiasm for the role and their level of  potential, and only then are they sent through the official certification route, enabling them to build both their qualifications and experience concurrently.

Of course, in larger companies Occupational Health professionals are normally recruited externally to fill a knowledge or experience gap which may be missing from the present workforce.

While many of these professionals will have several qualifications, we must go back to the earlier point and state that these are not always necessary when you are just starting out in this field.

Getting Started

Many site Occupational Health/Health and Safety representatives actually begin by gaining smaller, introductory certifications before moving onto recognized qualifications.

These introductory courses are those which may last from a couple of hours one afternoon, to those which take a couple of days to complete.

Introductory courses can include:

  • First aid at work
  • Emergency first aid
  • Basic HACCP awareness
  • Basic environmental hazards training
  • Basic muscoskeletal hazards training

Once an employee has undertaken a few of these courses, and has a good basic understanding of the Occupational Health/Health and Safety fields, the company may then send the employee on a recognized qualification, with the most common being the NEBOSH General Certificate.

This certificate requires around two weeks worth of studying, as well as a practical and written examination to successfully undertake.

Although there are other recognized examination bodies, such as IOSH, NEBOSH is without a doubt the most popular and well-respected qualification available for Occupational Health professionals.

In all reality, the NEBOSH General Certificate is considered the minimum qualification required for employees looking to start a real career in Occupational Health/Health and Safety.

The next step

Once a NEBOSH General Certificate has been received, the next logical step is to garner a little more 'on the job' experience.

Once your level of experience in the role is a little more extensive, your employer may request that you apply for the full NEBOSH Diploma – this is particularly true in larger companies.

Smaller companies may often be satisfied with the NEBOSH General Certificate for their site-specific aims.

The NEBOSH Diploma takes approximately seven full weeks worth of study to obtain, and is the qualification most commonly required for Occupational Health/Health and Safety management and senior advisor roles.

The diploma can be an extremely demanding course, and this is one of the reasons we advise you to acquire the NEBOSH General Certificate and gain a little more experience in your current role before applying for it.

Are there any alternatives?

If, for any reason, you are unable to undertake the NEBOSH courses, a useful alternative could be the NVQ Level 5 Diploma. Unlike NEBOSH and IOSH qualifications, this is a work-based certification and will not require you to leave your place of work, or undertake written examinations.

You will simply be observed undertaking your normal daily role by a qualified assessor, while being supplied with the study material needed to pass the course.

While many employers are beginning to favour this qualification, as it means they do not lose an employee for 2-7 weeks at a time, it should also be noted that the NVQ Diploma does not quite carry as much weight with alternative employers as its NEBOSH equivalent.