Work Health and Safety Career Guide

Work Health and Safety Career Guide

What is a Health and Safety Professional?

A work health and safety professional is a person trained in Work Health and Safety (WHS) practices and regulations. They design, develop, implement and analyse WHS programs. WHS professionals ensure safe and healthy working conditions in workplaces, assist injured staff through the compensation and rehabilitation process of workers and ensure compliance with WHS legislation.

What Does a WHS Professional Do?

occupational health and safety cones placed by safety officer

WHS professionals or a safety officer can complete a range of tasks:

  • Identifying work health hazards, and assessing and controlling risks in the workplace.
  • Designing, developing, implementing, and analysing work health and safety plans.
  • Training employees in the proper use of personal protective equipment and safe working procedures.

Recording, reporting, and investigating workplace injuries and equipment damage.

  • Reporting safety performance.
  • Coordinating injured workers’ return to the workforce.
  • Inspecting and auditing workplaces, plants, processes, and hazards (physical and chemical) for compliance with legislation.
  • Supporting the application of ergonomic principles in the workplace through practices such as matching the correct furniture, equipment, and workplace activities to the needs of employees.
  • Writing internal safety policies, bulletins, and newsletters.
  • Keeping up to date with the latest news, technology, and legislation affecting the Work Health and Safety industry.
  • Liaising with relevant authorities.

What Skills, Knowledge, and Abilities are Required in Work Health and Safety?

  • Calm, patient, and assertive
  • Excellent negotiation, communication, and interpersonal skills
  • Excellent listening skills
  • Strong analytical abilities
  • Relevant work experience
  • Computer literate
  • Physical fitness
  • Able to learn and apply detailed legal, technical and regulatory information

Profile of the Health and Safety Industry in Australia

safety first painted by safety officer on road construction

There are nearly 30,000 people employed as occupational and environmental health professionals in Australia. Work health and safety skills are also highly desirable and useful in professions such as management or human resources or can be used in nearly any role in any industry where health and safety are important.

Nearly 60 percent of environmental health and WHS professionals are male. Women make up a little over 40 percent of the workforce and more than three-quarters of women work full time. The average full-time employee works a little over 42 hours per week. There is expected to be average growth in this field over the next few years, with between 10,000 and 25,000 job openings in the five years until 2017.

The median age of people in this profession is 42 years (slightly above the median age in all professions, 40). About 30 percent of workers are aged 25-34, around 23 percent are 35-44 and another 28 percent are aged 45-54.

Health and safety is a fairly highly trained and skilled profession. Over 40 percent of the workforce has a Certificate III, Certificate IV, Diploma, or Advanced Diploma qualification. Another 40 percent has a Bachelor’s Degree, Graduate or Postgraduate Diploma, or Graduate Certificate.

What Qualifications are Required to Become a WHS Professional?

There are no mandatory qualifications to work in the health and safety field. Qualifications such as the Certificate IV in Work Health and Safety are commonly considered the minimum formal training required to hold many WHS roles. Higher-level qualifications like the Diploma of Work Health and Safety can be a major asset when seeking employment in this field, particularly if you are trying to enter the industry with limited experience.

Qualifications such as the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (or similar training skills) can be an asset for health and safety professionals, particularly for inducting and training employees in safety.

After completing your Certificate IV or Diploma of Work Health and Safety, it is possible to continue your training with more advanced vocational qualifications or undergraduate and postgraduate study at university. These qualifications may be highly desirable or required to hold senior positions in safety management, particularly in large organisations.

Where do WHS Professionals Work?

occupational health and safety employees

WHS professionals are essential in many industries in Australia. Health and safety advisors may be employed by many public and private sector organisations, including hospitals, hotels, restaurants, local authorities, construction or engineering companies, colleges, universities, police forces, the defense forces, food processing and packaging plants, mining companies, oil and gas companies, manufacturers, government departments and large private companies.

What are the Normal Working Conditions?

Workplace health and safety professionals are active in the workplace. You may work alone or as part of a health and safety team. You’ll be working closely with people on a regular basis to perform tasks such as inducting and training employees in safe practices and personal protective equipment.

Safety professionals can work in an office environment but will likely also be called out into the field in order to inspect worksites, conduct audits such as noise testing, and carry out risk assessments. You may also need to act as a middleman between regulators and the people working on a job site and make sure work health and safety protocols are in place.

What Tools, Technology, and Other Equipment are Used in Work Health and Safety?

occupational health tools suited for a safety officer

  • Computer
  • Phone
  • Email
  • Audio Recordings
  • Video Recordings
  • Personal Protective Equipment
  • Testing and Auditing Tools (eg. Sound Level Meter)
  • Mobile devices (phones + tablets) with apps

What are Common Job Titles in Work Health and Safety?

female health and safety representative working in occupational health

  • Compliance Investigator
  • Corporate Safety Director
  • Director of Safety and Wellness
  • Environment Protection Specialist
  • Environment, Health, and Safety Manager
  • Environmental Health and Safety Delivery Specialist
  • Environmental Health and Safety Engineer
  • Environmental Health and Safety Manager
  • Environmental Health Specialist
  • Environmental Protection Specialist
  • Environmental Quality Analyst
  • Environmental Scientist
  • Ergonomist
  • Field Safety Officer
  • Food Safety Auditor
  • Food Safety Officer
  • Health and Safety Manager
  • Health Inspector
  • Health Surveyor
  • Industrial Hygiene/Safety Engineer
  • Industrial Hygienist
  • Infection Control Practitioner
  • Injury/Safety Hazard Assessment
  • Occupational Health and Safety Controller
  • Primary Products Inspector
  • Safety Advisor
  • Safety Director
  • Safety Engineer
  • Safety Inspector
  • Safety Officer
  • Safety Technician

Should You Consider Workplace Health and Safety Careers?

occupational health and work safety symbol

There are many reasons why you would choose to become a safety professional:

You might be born with a passion for keeping others safe and healthy, making WHS a natural career choice for you.

  • Perhaps you have an analytical mind; the challenge of finding risks and eliminating them in such a high-stakes scenario appeals to you.
  • You feel like your natural abilities fit perfectly with a career in safety.
  • You may simply want the potential to earn a great income while doing something good and positive in the world.

If any of those sounds like you, it’s worth looking at a career in safety. As long as you’re willing to put in the effort and be great at your job, your motivation is less important than your results.

There are some personal traits like empathy, people skills, speaking skills, integrity, honesty, courage, and critical thinking which fit perfectly with the demands of a safety career. If you possess some of those traits, they will stand you in good stead as a WHS professional.

It also helps if you have operations knowledge in your industry. That means you’ve spent time actually working in a hands-on, front-line role so you can draw from real experience when you’re making decisions that affect the way people work on site. Management experience is an advantage too.

How Much is a WHS Professional Paid?

cubes that spell pay day on top of a calendar - symbol of salary for occupational health workers and health and safety representative

Work health and safety professionals working full time (grouped together with environmental health professionals) earn approximately $29.33 per hour on average.

What Other Resources are Available?

Source: Job Outlook – Occupational & Environmental Health Professionals

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