Should I do a degree in health and safety?
Perhaps you've already decided to take the plunge and do a degree in health and safety (H&S) or you're just contemplating whether to go down this path and need some advice and tips to help make that decision. Dr Shaun Lundy, Academic Portfolio Leader of the Occupational Safety, Health, Hygiene & Environment Programmes at the University of Greenwich, looks at the options available to those looking to get educated in health and safety.
If you've never been to university or it's been a while since you’ve last studied, signing up to study a degree can be a nerve-racking experience. It’s a huge investment in time and energy, not to mention the financial costs. On the plus side it will certainly open the doors to future employment opportunities and broaden your outlook.
Doing a degree is also often a significant life changing experience, it is a huge personal achievement and demonstrates to the world that you are motivated and have academic capability, and with that comes confidence. What you learn on a degree is obviously important but crucially you also learn how to learn and how to critically evaluate existing knowledge, research and practice. This helps to develop your individual competence to a more advanced level.
What are the degree options out there?
Firstly you should look for accredited degree options. The vast majority of H&S degrees that are available in UK universities are accredited by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), the Chartered body for health and safety professionals, as meeting the academic requirements for Chartered Membership. IOSH is the world's biggest professional health and safety membership organisation, campaigning on issues, setting standards, and developing and connecting members with resources, guidance, events and training. By successfully completing an IOSH accredited course you will be entitled to apply for Graduate Membership (GradIOSH).Following a period of initial professional development and a successful interview by your peers, you will become a Chartered member (CMIOSH). Many students undertake degrees who are already Chartered members, and it would be wrong to assume that all degree students are young; in fact many of my students are over the age of 30 and some are studying in their 60s, so age is no barrier when it comes to studying at university.
Degree options broadly fall into two categories, the undergraduate degree and post-graduate degree.
Undergraduate degrees include foundation degrees, ordinary degrees and degrees with honours. Many universities also offer top-up degrees in H&S which allows mature students to access the final year of a degree programme with existing qualifications and experience. This means that you can usually study a BSc Hons top-up degree in one year full-time or two years part-time providing you have the required pre-accreditation. This route is now proving a very popular choice for those with experience in H&S practice and a qualification such as an HND or equivalent or recognised membership levels such as TechIOSH. Entry requirements do vary and you would need to check with the university offering the programme as to their specific entry criteria.
Postgraduate programmes in Health and Safety include Postgraduate Certificates, Diplomas and Masters Degrees either MSc or MA. These qualifications are more advanced than undergraduate degrees and provide a study option for those wishing to develop their knowledge and critical thinking ability beyond their existing qualifications.
There are a number of IOSH accredited degrees offered by universities in the UK, although as with undergraduate degrees, students are sometimes already Chartered members when they begin their studies. Often students entering a Master’s programme already have an undergraduate degree, NEBOSH Diploma or other equivalent qualification and some will also gain entry on experience alone where this at a senior level. As with undergraduate degrees you would need to check with the university offering the programme for their specific entry criteria.
Beyond the Master’s degree there are PhD’s and Professional Doctorates such as the DProf. Increasingly professionals are looking for higher level research focussed degrees such as Doctorates and this has seen the steady rise in Professional Doctorate offerings. Unlike the traditional academic PhD Professional Doctorates are designed to make a significant contribution to practice making it a good fit with senior professionals looking for the next challenge.
Course content and cost
Individual degree programmes may vary slightly in contents and emphasis but generally will follow some familiar topics in line with the IOSH syllabus e.g. Risk Management; Chemical and Physical Agents; Workplace and Work Equipment Hazards etc. and also usually a Research Dissertation on an area of practice.
Some programmes will also include other specialist subjects such as Environmental Management or Wellbeing which can be useful if your role includes one these areas. Fees also vary depending on the level and where and how you decide to study. Presuming you’re studying part-time over two years you can expect to pay in the range of £2,500 - £4,500 a year for an undergraduate programme and sometimes slightly more for a Master’s Degree programme, again depending on how and where you decide to study. Study options include full-time and part-time taught programmes or by distance-learning which is increasingly becoming an attractive option for those who struggle with time off work or are located off-shore or overseas.
So, what next?
If you have no experience in health and safety but want to get started have a look at courses in your area. The IOSH accredited courses are listed here.
If you are looking for postgraduate options, click here to look at what is available to you.
Other useful links include: