Career and professional development

The Role of the OHS Professional: Qualification and Skill Requirements

Whether you’re looking for a new job, or you feel it’s time for a career change, deciding which career path is right for you can be overwhelming. To avoid being stuck in a job that could potentially make you dread going to work, it’s always a good idea to research the industry and role you’re interested in.

Researching your Potential New Role

Looking at working hours, salary, holiday entitlement and the job market will naturally be of interest, while delving into the actual nature of the job will help paint a picture of how your day-to-day job will go. For starters, what type of job roles are there in your chosen industry? What activities will you be doing on a day to day basis? What key skills do you need to get ahead? Do you need to take any additional courses, if so, which? Getting answers to these questions and understanding your priorities will help you make the next step.

INSHPOLuckily, INSHPO (The International Network of Safety and Health Practitioner Organisations) has put together a global framework for the practice of health and safety. The “Occupational Health and Safety Professional Capability Frameworkclarifies the role, knowledge and skills required for those working in the industry.

It’s designed to act as a reference to professionals and aid the development of their CPD, as well as provide a useful resource for professional associations, educators, employers, regulators and communities.

Types of Health and Safety Job Roles

The health and safety professional can diverge into two paths: professional and practitioner. Although the two roles can often overlap, the overall nature of each role can differ depending on what industry you’re in and where in the world you’re based.

OHS Professional

OHS Professionals are designers and leaders of health and safety strategy. They integrate the management of health and safety risk into wider business objectives right across an organisation.

OHS professionals are usually trained through higher education and offer advice based on conceptual and technical knowledge. They work with senior management, building relationships as a way to influence decisions, mentor, and provide strategic insight.

Positions include Health and Safety Advisor, Health and Safety Manager, SHEQ Manager and Director of Health and Safety.

Download our Infographic on typical work activities for an OHS Professional

OHS Practitioner

The OHS Practitioner implements health and safety strategy on a site level or within a section of a large organisation. They maintain a safe working environment by focusing on health and safety compliance and worker behaviour.

OHS practitioners are often vocationally educated, offering insight on hazard and risk assessment and controls. They work with middle management, supervisors and ‘shop floor’ workers, building relationships as a way to influence behaviour, mentor, and provide technical advice.

Positions include Health and Safety Officer, Health and Safety Advisor, Health and Safety Manager, Health and Safety Coordinator.

Download out Infographic on typical work activities for an OHS Practitioner.

Knowledge Requirements

symi033_thinking_greenWorking in health and safety, you should have a solid understanding of technical concepts to be able to perform the activities required of you.

Such a knowledge base will help you to adapt your professional practice to meet the changing demands of business and society. It will also allow you to mentor and develop those around you.

INSHPO’s framework highlights 6 key areas of knowledge any OHS Professional/Practitioner should have. Each contains its own categories and topics.

  • Hazards and risks
  • Risk controls
  • Safety and health management
  • Professional role and functioning
  • Underlying technical, human and social sciences
  • Underlying management sciences

As an active OHS professional, it is not enough to just have an awareness of the topics within each area. You must be able to apply the underlying knowledge to your workplace, integrating and adapting the theory to well-known and new situations.


Your knowledge base should be achieved through both education and real life experience.

NEBOSH courses are the benchmark for any OHS professional. Attracting over 50,000 learners each year, in over 120 countries, the globally-recognised qualifications help develop health, safety and environmental professionals in all areas of work.

NEBOSH-ExamsThe NEBOSH National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety / NEBOSH International General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety provide an introduction to key health and safety concepts, giving you a good foundation of knowledge.

From there, you can build upon your knowledge with more industry specific qualifications, such as the NEBOSH National Certificate in Construction Health and Safety, NEBOSH Certificate in Fire Safety and Risk Management, and NEBOSH International Technical Certificate in Oil and Gas Operational Safety

Higher level roles will need a more advanced level of knowledge. The NEBOSH National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety / NEBOSH International Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety provide the technical knowledge and skills to install health and safety concepts at a strategic level and solidify yourself as an expert in the field.

NEBOSH qualifications can lead to membership of professional bodies such as the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management (IIRSM).

Professional Skills

bluetack_groupWorking within health and safety will require you to influence workers across all levels of an organisation including senior management, middle management, supervisors, frontline workers and external agencies.

Good personal and professional skills are vital attributes that allow you to build relationships with key decision makers and create a positive safety culture throughout an organisation.


The most effective OHS professionals have the ability to influence and change behaviours by connecting with their colleagues with open-mindedness and respect. It’s important to be able to communicate with people on a level appropriate to them, whether they are a shop floor worker or Director, and encourage an open flow of feedback to help track and improve performance.

Preparing reports and documentation is a large part of any OHS professional’s role, so good presentation and written communication skills are a must. You may also be required to provide training to staff at various levels, so you should also be able to prepare and deliver training materials appropriate to different audiences.

Other key attributes that are beneficial to develop include:

  • Professional and personal leadership
  • Problem-solving and critical thinking
  • Negotiation and management of conflict
  • Teamwork building
  • Change and project management
  • Ethical practice

These skills are structured to support both self-assessment and peer assessment and provide a basis for training and development, either formal or informal.

What to do next

If you’re looking to start a career in health and safety, or you’re interested in developing your career further, take a look at our suite of NEBOSH qualifications.

Further reading

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