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John Nolan

What to look for when hiring an occupational health & safety professional

Hiring an OH&S (operational health and safety) manager is a serious undertaking for any business, and one that’s critical that you get right the first time if possible. If you have an OH&SMS (Operational Health and Safety Management System) that is certified according to the OHSAS 18001 standard, then you will have extra legislative and compliance obligations to fulfill, and therefore, the ability and knowledge of the individual you appoint becomes even more important. So, what kind of person should your organization look to appoint, and what attributes should he/she have?

Your OHSAS manager: What attributes should he/she possess?


In our previous article: What is the role of the OH&S Manager according to OHSAS 18001, we considered the OH&S manager’s role in some detail. While these qualities are still relevant to the position, there are also some key attributes and personal skills your organization should seek in the person you employ to be responsible for your OH&S system. Let’s look at what they are:

  • Strong mental capacity: This seems obvious, but hiring a competent person will pay dividends. Depending on the sector your business operates in, your OH&S manager and his/her ability to run the OH&SMS (Operational Health and Safety Management System) will have a direct bearing on your OH&S performance and the well-being of your employees. On a daily basis, your OH&SMS manager will have decisions to make and priorities to assess; his/her ability to do so effectively will have a great bearing on employee safety, production throughput, and all the factors that surround this, such as compliance with legislation and avoiding fines for your company. On this basis, it should become clear very quickly to your top management team that appointing the correct OH&S professional is one of the most important personnel decisions the organization will make.
  • Able to command the respect of your employees: Again, there is a tendency to look at elements such as employee qualifications – and qualifications are critical in some business sectors – rather than personal attributes, and to an extent, this can be a mistake. When you hire an OH&S professional, he/she very quickly needs to gain the respect of the employee base, ensure that any orders or process changes are immediately adopted on communication, and vitally, build a degree of trust whereby employees immediately have the confidence to approach the OH&S representative for advice or information. This level of cooperation – if achieved – helps instill an ethos of health and safety in your business. As well as having a hugely positive effect on your current employees, this helps when recruiting new members of staff who need to be OH&S aware very quickly.
  • Be enthusiastic and a good communicator: It is often said that people reflect their leader, and to a degree that is true. The importance of hiring an OH&S professional who is enthusiastic and communicates, as well is being knowledgeable, cannot be underestimated. An OH&S representative who ensures that he passes on his/her sense of urgency gives the vital impression that OH&S matters to the organization, and can be an asset to your team and overall OH&SMS performance. Also, good presentation skills can be very important in performing trainings on raising awareness among employees.
  • Able to build good relationships: If your OH&S professional is a “people person,” your results will benefit. Think of an OH&S professional who works for a public-facing organization such as a power station, nuclear station, or a government body. This person may have to ensure legislation is met while at the same time satisfying internal OH&S metrics, pressure from employees, and interest from stakeholders, as well as being aware of what effect OH&S initiatives may have on productivity. This requires skill, tact, diplomacy, and insight, and if you can hire a professional who brings this to the role, it will benefit your organization greatly.

Are you getting the right OH&S professional for your organization?

Of course, we are not saying that qualifications and relevant experience should be ignored when recruiting an OH&S professional, but it is important to consider the attributes above when selecting the person you want to employ. Obviously, legislation will need to be met, and a having good knowledge of the OHSAS 18001 standard is critical, but the role of a modern-day OH&S professional is now greater than ever before.

Why not invite the preferred candidate to spend a day in your facility before hiring, and judge whether the candidate is right for your organization? Similarly, you could ask the candidate to draw out a diary of a week in your organization and find out what importance they give to meeting legislation, communication, and assessment of hazard and risk. This will give you some idea of a candidate’s capabilities that you will probably find impossible to uncover in a formal interview situation. A good OHSAS 18001 candidate will have a full picture of the benefits of his/her own work, and if you can mix good reasoning along with the attributes we have analyzed above, your organization may be a step closer to finding the correct person.

Perhaps this free checklist:  List of questions to ask an OHSAS 18001 consultant can help you decide to hire the right professional.

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