Did you know that in a big organisation, the Safety Officer is often one of the most important employees?
Big companies – especially in industries such as mining, construction, and engineering – employ Safety Officers to reduce the risk of accidents in the workplace.
One reason for this is that companies want to avoid the financial implications that result when employees are injured in the course of their work. Another reason is that they want to avoid the damage that could be sustained to their reputation if accidents frequently occurred in their workplace – or if they were found to be negligent in the case of a serious workplace accident.
What does a Safety Officer do?
A Safety Officer looks after the safety of the people in the workplace. This is a broad description of what a Safety Officer does. In practice, his or her responsibilities can include an extensive range of tasks and activities, depending on the industry. Some of these tasks and activities might include:
- Drafting, revising, and/or implementing a safety management policy
- Drawing up a safety management plan
- Staying up to date with health and safety laws and regulations
- Identifying, evaluating, and minimising safety risks in the workplace
- Training employees on health and safety issues in the workplace
- Making sure that all the necessary safety equipment is available to employees and visitors
- Making sure that all employees know how to use safety equipment correctly
- Making sure that all safety equipment is in good condition
- Responding to, investigating, and reporting on safety-related incidents
- Carrying out safety inspections
- Reporting on the effectiveness of safety management policies, plans, training sessions, and other initiatives
- Supervising junior health and safety employees
Where does a Safety Officer work?
A Safety Officer can work in any type of organisation – in any industry. Typically, however, Safety Officers will be found in larger organisations, as well as in organisations that operate in high-risk industries, such as mining, construction, and engineering. In smaller organisations, the safety management functions might be incorporated into another position, such as that of HR Manager.
What is the working environment like?
The working environment differs from one industry and organisation to another. For example:
- A Safety Officer in a hospital will spend most of his or her time in the hospital building, and may be required to work shifts, instead of regular office hours.
- A Safety Officer in a business environment may spend some time in the office; some time on the factory floor; and some time on the road, travelling from one business location to another. He or she is more likely to work office hours.
- A Safety Officer in the mining industry will spend some time in the mines and some time in the office. His or her job is likely to be more dangerous than the jobs mentioned in the previous two examples.
What skills, qualifications, and experience do you need to work as a Safety Officer?
The exact skills, qualifications, and experience you need will depend on the type of organisation you want to work for, as well as on the type of industry you want to work in. There are, however, also some general skills and characteristics you will need:
Essential skills and characteristics
- Strong written and verbal communication skills
- Critical thinking and problem solving skills
- Observation skills (attention to detail)
- Sense of responsibility
- Physical ability to do the work
The qualifications you need to become a Safety Officer differ from one organisation and industry to another. The best way to make sure you study toward the right courses is to decide which industry you would like to work in, and then to contact the relevant industry body, as well as major employers in that industry, to find out what their recommendations and requirements are.
The following list will give you an idea of where to start looking for information:
|Construction||SACPCMP (South African Centre for Project Construction Managers & Plumbers)|
|To work as a Safety Officer in the construction industry, you need to be registered with the SACPCMP.|
|Mining||MQA (Mining Qualifications Authority)|
|Medical||SASOM (South African Society of Occupational Medicine)|
|General||Saiosh (South African Institute of Occupational Safety and Health)|
|Saiosh is a professional body that registers OHS practitioners in various industries, and is recognised by SAQA. They offer three professional designations, based on qualifications and experience:
· Technical Member – TechSaiosh (NQF5 or equivalent, and 2 years’ experience)
· Graduate Member – GradSaiosh (NQF6 Diploma and 3 years’ postgrad experience)
· Chartered Member – CMSaiosh (NQF7 Degree and 5 years’ postgrad experience)
|Saiosh is the accrediting body for the SAMTRAC occupational risk management course (offered exclusively by NOSA in SA), as well as for a range of other OHS courses offered by various training providers.|
In terms of qualifications, the main requirement is that you need a relevant formal qualification before you can be appointed as a Safety Officer. In some industries, such as the construction industry, the role of Safety Officer is subject to further regulations. This is why it is important for you to do your research, and choose your industry, before you decide which course(s) to study.
If you’re interested in learning the general principles of OHS and OHS management, you can start out with the following Saiosh-accredited distance learning OHS courses at Oxbridge Academy:
- Oxbridge Academy Skills Certificate: Health and Safety
- Oxbridge Academy Skills Certificate: Health and Safety for Management
- Oxbridge Academy Skills Certificate: Health and Safety for Management – Intermediate
- Oxbridge Academy Skills Certificate: Health and Safety for Management – Advanced
To find employment as a Safety Officer, you will usually need some form of experience. How much experience – and what type of experience – you need will depend on the seniority of the position, along with factors such as the nature of the industry and the nature of the role within the organisation.
If you want to work as a Mining Safety Officer, for example, you will need experience in the mining industry, as well as practical experience in OHS.
In some cases, it may even be possible to work your way up to a Safety Officer position within a company even if you don’t have any formal OHS training or experience. Here’s an example of how this could happen:
You start out as an employee in a mining company. You do your job well, and you’re promoted to a team leader role. You’re enthusiastic about your job, and you care about the health and safety of the people around you, so you volunteer to serve on the Safety Committee as a Safety Representative.
You realise that you really enjoy being a Safety Rep, and you start looking at the career options in this line of work. At this point, you might decide to start studying OHS part-time while you are working, and you might also approach your employer to find out whether there would be an opportunity for you to move into a Safety Officer role once you’ve completed the relevant training. If you’re lucky, your employer might even offer to pay for your training!
So what are the steps you need to take to become a Safety Officer?
1 – Choose the industry you want to work in
This can be literally any industry: from business or education, to mining, health care, or construction.
2 – Gain experience in that industry
Any practical experience in your industry counts, even if it doesn’t directly involve OHS.
It will be to your advantage, though, if you work in a position where you can develop and use some of the skills mentioned earlier (such as written and verbal communication skills, problem solving skills, and critical thinking skills). These are known as transferable skills, which means that you can learn them in one working environment, and easily apply them in another.
3 – Develop your knowledge and skills in occupational health and safety (OHS) management.
You can do this by:
- Completing relevant training courses based on your industry/chosen area of specialisation.
- Job shadowing someone who works in the field of OHS.
- Starting out in a junior OHS role, or another related role (e.g. Safety Representative, Operations Assistant, Compliance Officer, etc.) to gain relevant practical experience.
4 – Start applying for Safety Officer positions.
You can do this by:
- Enquiring about opportunities that may be available within your current employer’s organisation.
- Searching for jobs online.
- Reading the job advertisements in newspapers, in industry magazines/newsletters, and on community noticeboards.
- Discovering opportunities via your professional network.
If you have any questions about starting your career as a Safety Officer:
Give our Student Advisors a call on 021 1100 200
Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org