A guest post from Will Taylor of Atlas Safety
Looking back over my 17-year career in Health and Safety, there are some notable highlights which stand out. Obtaining the NEBOSH Diploma, with two Best Candidate Awards, helping Smith and Nephew in Hull reach 1,000 days without Lost-Time Injury, and that time when I realized measuring the speed of forklifts just encouraged the drivers to go faster!
It’s easy to overlook things though. Like my NEBOSH General Certificate in Occupational Safety and Health qualification (NGC). In comparison to the Diploma and my Degree, the NGC seems almost insignificant. But without it, I would not be where I am today.
- It gave me a career.
- I got paid more money.
- I built a solid foundation of health and safety knowledge.
- It enabled me to access higher-level health and safety courses.
- Even for non-H&S professionals, having a safety qualification gives you an advantage over other job applicants.
As an employer, it also had benefits.
- My colleagues and subordinates knew what they were talking about.
- Managers were more competent, thanks to the transferable skills the NGC gave them.
- Managers managed more safely, helping me improve our safety performance.
- We complied with the law. Obtaining “competent advice” in health and safety, and providing health and safety training, is a legal requirement.
Why did I Choose the NGC?
It was my uncle who recommended it. He worked in Oil and Gas as a Health and Safety Manager. He used to go offshore to places like Libya. He got paid a fortune, working four on / four off shift rotations. All he had was the NGC. “Get your NGC”, he said, “and you’ll be set up for life”.
So I did. I signed up for a distance learning NGC course. It took about 6 months of study. It wasn’t an e-learning course. I was given a set of books to study. I did a lot of reading. I hardly interacted with my tutor, except for that time he put me through some mock exams, to check I was ready for the real thing. I had no understanding of exam technique. I just wrote everything I knew and, somehow, I managed to pass. These days, I recognize how exam technique is much more important, especially if a student lacks confidence in their knowledge.
Increased my Career Prospects
I passed the NGC. Three months later I got the actual paper certificate. Now it was time to go job-hunting.
NEBOSH has been, since at least the late 1990s, the National benchmark for health and safety qualifications. Yes, there are others available. But you don’t often see those mentioned in job vacancies and adverts. The overwhelming majority of job adverts request a NEBOSH qualification. Today, this is even truer. The latest analysis of UK health and safety job vacancies shows that almost half (45%) of health and safety job vacancies require the NGC as a minimum. The rest ask for the NEBOSH Diploma. 93% of vacancies specify either a NEBOSH qualification or membership of IOSH.
Thanks to my NGC qualification, I got a job that was part-health and safety and part-Training. It was in financial services, and my role was to develop and implement a basic health and safety management system. The owner of the company had employed me partly because the Local Authority had served him an improvement notice that he needed to employ a “Competent Person”. My new boss told me my job was to keep him out of prison! More on that later.
Even if you’re not planning on a career in health and safety, the NGC is a useful addition to the CV. I know many Production, Engineering, or Facilities Managers who have the qualification. Even Engineers. It makes them stand out in the recruitment process and gives their employer reassurance that they’re competent to manage their areas safely. It’s just as valuable as demonstrating your ability to manage projects and people.
Solid Foundation of Health and Safety Knowledge
The NGC gave me was a lot of knowledge. It taught me what was required to keep the people safe, and how to protect the business. It helped me understand the commercial benefits of managing safety, so I could sell the message to my senior management. I helped my new boss understand it wasn’t just about keeping him out of prison. I could help him make more money.
The NGC course taught me about “management systems”. It was my first exposure to the Plan Do Check Act philosophy, which is the basis of every management system in the world. I realized that we all do the Plan Do Check Act every day. Even in our simple day to day tasks like checking our bank account and setting ourselves a monthly budget. The NGC qualification gave me an understanding of how it applies at an organizational level, and how it can be formalized.
I already knew quite a lot about Fire. But I had had practically no exposure to mechanical hazards, chemicals, radiation, noise, or other types of hazard. The second unit of the NGC qualification is structured to cover each type of hazard. First, it teaches you about the hazard, where it can be found, and how it can harm you. Then it explains how the hazard is controlled, giving you flexible options to use depending on the situation. You develop an understanding of the wide range of solutions available.
After three years of managing health and safety in office environments, I began to crave something more demanding. I wanted some industrial experience.
I began to apply for entry-level health and safety positions in companies all over the UK. Just under half of the vacancies specified the NGC as a minimum requirement. I had little or no relevant experience, so that was a limiting factor.
Eventually, thanks to having the NGC and a large amount of enthusiasm and passion, I was offered a Health and Safety Advisor position at Swift Group Ltd, the UK’s largest caravan manufacturer.
The NGC gave me the knowledge I needed. Now, I had the opportunity to do it for real!
Without the NGC, I would never had gotten that job at Swift. Whilst I had no industrial safety experience, the NGC gave me a foot in the door. It gave me career opportunities, where before there were none.
What was the benefit to me on a personal level? Self-esteem, and hope for the future. It helped me get my first job in a large company. I knew that applying for health and safety positions in the future would be much easier. My CV would have more credibility. I would have both the qualification and the experience. It made me more comfortable financially. Compared to what I earn now, I wasn’t paid that much. But it was more than I had ever been paid before. I was getting married. I needed money, and this job helped me pay for the wedding we both wanted. Looking back, it was a wise investment. The average top-end salary is now £43,000. It is higher for those with the Diploma.
Access to Higher-Level Courses
The NGC gives you access to higher qualifications, such as the NEBOSH Diploma. This is a degree level qualification. It covers, broadly, the same subjects as the NGC, but at a much greater level of depth. A simplistic way of putting it would be: The NGC is for frontline Health and Safety Officers. The NEBOSH Diploma is for Health and Safety Managers, operating at a more strategic level.
Many NEBOSH course providers will not allow you to sign up to the Diploma unless you can demonstrate that you already have a strong foundation of health and safety knowledge and understanding. The NGC is the most common entry requirement.
The NGC was the first stepping stone to where I am today.
Benefits as an Employer
I have worked with many managers. You can tell when a manager has an NGC qualification. It doesn’t just make them safer. They’re more competent. They’re better managers in general. I have found that the NGC improves managers’ general management skills.
Most managers are not qualified in management. Most are promoted, from the workforce. They are often promoted because they are the best, hardest working, or most loyal employee. Usually, they don’t get any management training. The NGC course is often the first time a manager is exposed to basic management theory.
I have known managers for whom the Plan Do Check Act philosophy was a revelation. Much of the theory in the NGC applies equally to other aspects of management. These are transferable skills. Planning, prioritizing, communication, motivation, inspecting, reviewing, and investigation, are all transferable skills. For example, the basic steps of an investigation are the same, whether it be for a safety incident, a grievance, a disciplinary, or a quality defect. Managers take these skills and apply them elsewhere.
Competent Colleagues = Easier Conversations
As a Health and Safety manager, it really helps to have colleagues who know what they’re talking about. The saying “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” is particularly relevant to health and safety. I’ve had managers quote legislation to me, such as “that’s not reasonably practicable”, without any understanding of what it means. I’ve had health and safety representatives tell me “ladders are banned”, and then cause trouble on the shop floor.
The NGC course gives managers, employees, and representatives, the knowledge they need to understand how to do their jobs safely. It helps them understand what the law really requires, instead of the myths they believe are true. It helps me have constructive conversations with them. It gives us a common language, and a common agreement on the core health and safety principles to be applied.
Legal Requirement to Obtain Competent Advice
I got my first health and safety position because the local authority had forced my new employer to employ someone to give them “competent advice”.
By law, organizations must obtain “competent advice” to “assist” the organization in managing health and safety. What this means in practice, is that employers need to employ either internal or external people with suitable health and safety qualifications and experience. Of course, the employer may themselves be “competent” and advise themselves. But that is rarely the case.
Nothing in the law says that employers must employ someone with an NGC qualification. But since the NGC is the most common and most recognized level 3 health and safety qualification in the world, then this would be a good place to start. It would be sufficient for most workplaces, except high-risk industrial situations such as the petrochemical sector, or in construction.
Employers don’t tend to get prosecuted for not employing competent advice. But they do get enforcement notices served upon them. Employers can also be forced to provide safety training, including manager safety training. Like my previous employer, an improvement notice gives you 21 days to make the required changes, or face prosecution. Having employees with an NGC certificate goes a long way towards proving you’re legally compliant.
Fines and Prosecutions
Not seeking competent advice could be viewed as an aggravating factor in prosecutions. If an organization is prosecuted for injuring someone, and the organization failed to seek competent advice, this could increase the level of “culpability” and therefore the fine. As far as the courts are concerned, “reasonable” employers will get someone competent to advise them on safety.
Since the new Sentencing Guidelines came into force in February 2016, fines have increased far beyond anything previously seen. The total value of fines has gone up by around 50%. Seven-figure fines, previously reserved for the most extreme offenses, are now being levied against organizations where no one has ever been injured or harmed. Fines are routinely hitting the £1 million mark.
As for Directors, the numbers being personally prosecuted have trebled. 46 were prosecuted in 2015/2016, with a 75% prosecution success rate. 12 were given prison sentences. One was locked up for two years. It reminds me of that part-time safety role I was offered.
“Your job”, my new boss said, “is to keep me out of prison”. And I did. Very much thanks to the NGC course I did.
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