Crossing streams: a second career in OSH 

Published on: 29 Jan 2024

While many people who choose to work in occupational health and safety do so as a first career, the profession also attracts many who are looking for a change.

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There are many reasons why health and safety may be a good choice if you’re looking to start another career. It requires many transferable skills, which you may have built up in previous employment or different walks of life.  

Communication skills are essential, as you’ll need to engage with a wide range of people, from junior positions to board-level directors. You’ll require a high degree of empathy and understanding, as people may come to you with any concerns they have.  

Analytical skills are very much in demand, as you’ll have to make assessments around levels of risk and any potential hazards. You’ll also need to be willing to learn, and be prepared to constantly update your knowledge in a fast-moving profession.  

There are several jobs that have backgrounds lending themselves to a career in occupational health and safety. The military is one example, but others include the engineering or construction industry; manufacturing and production; and transport and logistics. These often require high levels of organisation, discipline and the ability to work as part of a team while also demonstrating initiative. 

A good fit? 

Other industries also have transferable skills, particularly around communication, negotiation and relationship-building. Examples here would include retail, sales and marketing roles, as well as those from a background in education, such as a teacher, teaching assistant or trainer. Life experience, such as bringing up children, can also provide skills that will be valued by employers, and could encourage people to start a new career.  

Operations roles are another good fit, particularly when it comes to prioritising projects and ensuring the business can function with minimal disruption. Those who have worked in administration or office-based roles, or from a scientific or research background, will be well suited to the compliance elements of the job, while those coming from a social care position will have the required compassionate and caring skills.  

Of course, not every career will have all the required skills, and some will have more transferable ones than others. But there are plenty of training opportunities within the role, and many other skills and experiences can be picked up on the job.  

The same logic applies to graduates who have undertaken a degree in a separate area but now wish to start a career or switch over to occupational health and safety jobs. According to the Prospects Luminate What do Graduates Do? Report for 2023-24, ‘health and safety managers and officers’ is the eighth most common destination for chemical engineering graduates in the UK, for instance, demonstrating that there is potential for people from different disciplines to transfer over.  

The IOSH competency framework provides a useful guide to the skills required to develop a successful career in the profession. Key behaviours include stakeholder management, personal performance, communication and working with others.  

If you’re thinking of moving into the profession, speak to as many people from within it as you can. Try and build a network on LinkedIn and get a feel for what’s involved and whether your skills and experiences will be a good match. It could be the start of a long-lasting relationship.