Health and safety officers are vitally important in workplaces that contain heavy machinery or other potentially dangerous hazards, such as in the construction, manufacturing and agriculture sectors; identifying risks and implementing ways to mitigate those risks is a key part of ensuring that a company's employees remain safe.
There are other concerns for businesses, too; not only are workplace accidents and health hazards expensive, they can bring an onslaught of legal problems. Therefore, as you might expect, interviews can be tough, with potential employers wanting to know for certain that you have what it takes to protect both the company and its employees. Here are 10 questions you can expect if you’re called for an interview.
1. 'What would you do the first week on the job?'
On the surface, this question is about priorities, but it’s also designed to find out whether you know what you need to know to do the job – whether you know what’s important.
A good answer would include immediately conducting a thorough inspection of the facilities under your responsibility, getting to know the managers and personnel at those facilities, and examining the company’s safety record to identify any trends or patterns that need to be addressed quickly.
2. 'How would you handle a plant manager who thought safety procedures were a waste of time?'
In reality, any plant manager that is happy to disregard the safety of their employees probably wouldn't last too long in a management role, but that's not the real point of this question: rather, it's more of an insight into how you might handle opposition and manage potential conflict.
A good answer would include trying to convince the plant manager of the importance of safety using facts and figures (accident claims, down time, lawsuits, etc.), with particular emphasis on how absence through safety negligence would have a detrimental effect on his own team's output. You’d also want to cover what you’d do if you absolutely couldn’t win the plant manager over. One good answer could be acknowledging both the plant manager’s thoughts as well as the company’s requirements – and asking for their suggestions on how they can make safety regulations more efficient.
3. 'What would you do if someone called and said there had been a serious accident at our facility?'
The point of this question is to find out whether you can balance company policy with common sense - all while keeping a calm and clear head. So a good answer might go something like this, “Well, one of the first things I’d do is familiarize myself with your procedures ahead of time so I could make sure my response is in alignment. Then, I’d find out what type of first response was needed – both to treat any injured parties and attempt to gain control of and resolve the situation. I would also immediately identify any other agencies or third parties that would need to be notified (such as the ambulance service or the fire brigade) and get them involved quickly.”
4. 'What would you do if a plant manager asked you to ignore a safety violation?'
This question is designed to test your moral integrity, and see how you balance ethics, professional responsibility, and common sense. A good answer might sound something like this: “If it were a minor technical violation that was unlikely to result in injury, I might give the manager fair warning to fix it - say, within, 48 hours. After that time, I’d do another inspection, and if the issue still hadn't been addressed, I would take the necessary course of action. Of course, if it were a major hazard, then I’d refuse to ignore it and ensure that any relevant guidelines were subsequently followed."
5. 'Tell me about the biggest challenge at your last job.'
This is a fairly common interview question, the purpose of which is to get some insight into your personality, as well as into what you find difficult. Be careful here, because if you refer to something that’s a common occurrence in your prospective role - having to confront people, for instance - then you’re unlikely to get the job. One good approach is to mention something that is likely to annoy your prospective employer, too, such as employees who are always trying to circumvent safety procedures.
6. 'How do you handle record-keeping?'
With this question, your prospective employer is trying to determine whether your organisational skills are up to scratch, and if you'll place proper importance on protecting the company from liability.
A good answer may go something like this: “I’ve found that keeping accurate records, while it may not be exciting, is critical in protecting both the company and its employees. If there were an accident, for instance, it would be important to be able to prove that we had provided necessary training and had the right policies in place. I also think it’s crucial to make a thorough report of an accident right away, while the details are still fresh. If an injured employee later tells a different story, it’s important to have an accurate record.”
7. 'Say you’ve been here six months. What kind of routine do you have in place?'
This question is an attempt to find out two things. Firstly, that you've done your research about the role and you know what the priorities of the day-to-day job are, and secondly, that you're capable of working productively and efficiently with minimum levels of supervision or guidance.
A good answer would cover the duties and responsibilities as detailed in the job description, and might touch on things like: how often you’d perform routine inspections, how often you’d conduct training (and what you might focus on), and how you’d keep track of compliance and incident reporting.
8. 'Tell me about the latest health and safety regulations.'
This question is a clear test of whether or not you’re up to date on the latest developments in the industry. If you're not already working in a role where this knowledge is a requirement, then it should go without saying that, prior to your interview, you should find out whether there have been any recent changes and - just as importantly - what the impact of those changes will be.
9. 'What do you think is the number-one priority for a health and safety officer?'
This question is designed to tell your interviewer whether you and the company share the same values and to identify if you would be a good "fit". Of course, you need to ensure that you are aware of your prospective company's values and standards, but at the core of all health and safety roles, there are two main priorities: to keep all employees (and any visitors) as safe and risk-averse as possible, and to protect the company from liability in cases of negligence.
10. 'What is the worst safety violation you’ve ever seen?'
This question is designed to take stock of your standards. If your “worst violation” is something your prospective employer does every day, you may be out of luck; a better idea is to give the most egregious example you can think of – something so bad that it’s highly unlikely this company is doing it on a regular basis.
Ultimately, most of the interview questions asked of candidates for positions as health and safety officers are designed to find out two things: whether you know how to protect people, and whether you know how to protect the company. As long as your answers highlight your proficiency at - and commitment to - those two things, then you should do just fine.