Almost famous – health and safety specialists are looking for recognition

The health and safety profession is about to change – and it’s something all HR practitioners need to be aware of.

In November up to 6,000 members of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) will become chartered safety and health practitioners, bringing the profession on a par with accountants, bankers, architects and, of course, HR professionals.

Clearly, chartered status presents new challenges for safety and health practitioners. We have to show genuine, unquestionable commitment to maintain and raise professional standards, and we plan to do that through a new Continuing Professional Development (CPD) system, which will affect most of our members.

But the changes also set challenges for many of our colleagues in other professions, particularly those in HR. For us to succeed in achieving our vision of safe and healthy workplaces, we need HR professionals to work with us in partnership.

This means that HR professionals need to understand there are different levels of safety and health practitioner for different roles and responsibilities. Furthermore, for any senior safety and health position, you should always look for a chartered safety and health practitioner or a graduate member working towards chartered status.

Too often, we see advertisements for senior health and safety positions stating that the applicant “must hold the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health Diploma”. The fact is, under our new membership structure, someone holding the Nebosh diploma will still need to do two years’ initial professional development followed by a professional peer interview before they can be awarded chartered status. They must then maintain their CPD for the rest of their active career.

With higher standards throughout the profession, we aim to show that safety and health is certainly not a job for well-meaning amateurs. But we need HR professionals to understand the need for competent health and safety advice in the workplace – and from research IOSH carried out with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), it is a message that HR professionals seem to be getting to grips with.

We also need some HR managers to realise the key role they have in promoting health and safety in the boardroom. Safety and health professionals often report to the board or governing body via HR or personnel.

There are many issues we need to face together including managing work-related stress and sickness absence. At the national level, the CIPD, the Health and Safety Executive and IOSH have been working on these matters for some time, developing guidance and exploring best practice. But for real change to be achieved, collaboration within the workplace will be the key to success.

Gone are the days when it was possible to believe that health and safety could be managed properly with a clipboard and pen. The new breed of safety and health practitioners know how to work with senior decision-makers to deliver real business benefits.

It is clear that chartered safety and health practitioners still have a lot to do to make workplaces in the UK safer. There were 220 deaths in UK workplaces according to official figures for 2004/05. But, with the help of HR and other professionals, we can make a big difference.

Lawrence Waterman is president of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.

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