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International Recognition of Health and Safety Qualifications

Published: 10th May 2008

Global Qualifications Matched to Global Standards

Despite the increasing global recognition of the importance of health and safety at work, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that approximately 2 million workers annually die of occupational injuries and illnesses, equivalent to over 5,000 workers dying worldwide every day.

There is an estimated 500-2000 nonfatal injury for every fatal injury, many of which result in reduced profitability, lost earnings, permanent disability and poverty. The annual worldwide cost of occupational injury and illness is estimated by the ILO to be $1200 billion annually or 4% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). A key cause of many of these incidents is that the workers involved do not have the competence to perform their tasks.

This article will look at the role of internationally recognised vocational qualifications in promoting health and safety competence at a national and regional level. It will discuss how qualifications are developed and what is perceived as being most important when these qualifications are “recognised”. Global qualifications in health and safety are now a very real prospect.


The National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH) became an independent body in 1979 and now offers the most commonly taken examined health and safety qualifications in the UK. Over 100,000 people have achieved the NEBOSH Certificate since its inception in 1989. NEBOSH qualifications map to the underpinning knowledge within the National Occupational Standards produced by ENTO.

It offers vocational (work-related) qualifications both for safety professionals (the NEBOSH National and International Diplomas) and those who have workplace safety as part of their day to day responsibilities (NEBOSH National and International General Certificates). Vocational qualifications test underlying knowledge and understanding of both of theoretical principles and where appropriate practical application of those principles normally through a range of assessments tools, which include formal examinations, projects and case studies.

NEBOSH for example have training providers in 15 countries in the world although it operates examinations in 85 countries around the globe including Australia, Bahrain, Qatar, France, Cyprus, India, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Singapore and United Arab Emirates.

The current NEBOSH qualification portfolio consists of seven qualifications:

  • The NEBOSH National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety
  • The NEBOSH National Certificate in Construction Health and Safety
  • The NEBOSH Certificate in Fire Safety and Risk Management
  • The NEBOSH International General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety
  • The NEBOSH National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety
  • The NEBOSH International Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety
  • The NEBOSH Specialist Diploma In Environmental Management

These qualifications are offered through a variety of modes of study including full time block release, part-time day or evening courses over a number of weeks and open and Distance learning (including e-learning and blended learning).

A number of new qualifications are currently being either piloted or are being consulted upon. These include national and international Certificates in Environmental management and control, an international version of the Construction Certificate, a Certificate in oil and gas health and safety and for the first time a qualification aimed specifically at general workers which can also serve as an introduction to our International certificate.

All of NEBOSH assessment procedures whether they be examinations, projects, practicals or assignments are developed in accordance with regulatory bodies and educational best practice. In particular the assessment should be appropriate for its target audience. The five basic principles of best practice in assessment are listed in Figure 2 below.

The reputation of a qualification is of primary importance when employers are selecting appropriate training. It is equally important that the course providers who deliver the examination are competent to do so. Course providers should be formally accredited by the awarding body to offer the examination, having undergone a rigorous review of teaching expertise, course delivery and physical resources.

Both the teaching of the qualification and the arrangements in place to ensure fairness and consistency must be closely monitored to ensure that standards are maintained on an international basis.

In order to ensure that students are offered qualifications which are most appropriate to them NEBOSH have developed a range of international awards. There are many benefits in the introduction of truly international qualifications for people working in multi-national or global corporations. For example, the NEBOSH International General Certificate and the International Diploma are both modelled on their UK equivalents (the NEBOSH National General Certificate (NGC) and National Diploma respectively). The key difference between the UK and International versions is in the applicability of legal requirements.

Validity – the extent to which an examination can be shown to produce scores that are a true reflection of candidates’ abilities and the extent to which the interpretations we make based on that score are valid. This includes the content and coverage of the examination matching the content and coverage of the syllabus it is designed to assess.
Reliability – the extent to which assessment results are an accurate measurement of the candidates’ demonstration of the abilities specified by the assessment criteria/exam marks free from error.
Fairness – just, equitable, free from bias. We are committed to providing an appropriate balance of assessment methods, permit alternative teaching and learning approaches, be free from gender, ethnic or other discrimination or other stereotyping. Bias – being unfair to one particular group.
Positive impact – The qualifications should make a positive contribution to the candidate, the educational systems and society as a whole. NEBOSH is specifically seeking to raise occupational health, safety and environmental management standards worldwide.
Practicality – The assessment should be practical to develop, deliver and administer and be affordable and repeatable.
Unit IGC1 Unit IGC2
Foundations in health & safety Policy Organising for health & safety Promoting a positive health & safety culture Risk assessment Principles of control Monitoring, review and audit Occupational incident and accident investigation, recording and reporting. Movement of people and vehicles – hazards and control Manual and mechanical handling – hazards and control Working equipment hazards and Control Electrical hazards and control Fire hazards and control Chemical and biological health hazards and control Physical and psychological health hazards and control Construction activities hazards and control

Rather than be guided by a specifically UK framework, these international qualifications takes a risk management approach based on best practice and international standards, such as International Labour Organisation (ILO) codes of practice. They specifically reference the model proposed in the ILO’s “Guidelines on Occupational Safety and Health Management Systems” (ILO-OSH 2001).

Local laws and cultural factors form part of the study programme where relevant and appropriate. This is also intended to enable holders of these qualifications to effectively discharge their workplace health and safety responsibilities in all parts of the world and can help drive up standards across the wider organisation.

One of the major considerations in examining international qualifications is whether to examine the qualification in English or in local languages. Many companies operate English as an international business language and candidates at management level normally wish to be examined in English. However NEBOSH can offer examinations in local languages, such as Russian and Arabic when required although the cost of doing this will is higher than its English equivalent.

Our two main international qualifications are the International General Certificate (IGC) and the International Diploma (ID)

The IGC is intended for managers, supervisors and employees based outside the UK who require a broad knowledge and understanding of health and safety principles and practices. The qualification focuses on international standards and management systems, enabling candidates to effectively discharge workplace health and safety responsibilities in any employment sector, in all parts of the world. The NEBOSH International General Certificate is also suitable for those embarking on a career in health and safety, providing a valuable foundation for further professional study. It covers the principles relating to health and safety, identification and control of workplace hazards and the practical application of this knowledge.

The qualification is divided into three units, each of which is assessed separately over a total of 80 minimum taught hours:

  • Management of international health and safety (IGC1)
  • Control of international workplace hazards (IGC2)
  • International health and safety practical application (IGC3)

The contents of this qualification are shown in table 1.

The NEBOSH International Diploma is a qualification for aspiring health and safety professionals building directly upon the foundation of knowledge provided by the NEBOSH International General Certificate. It is designed to provide students with the expertise – wherever in the world they may be working – required to undertake a career as a safety and health practitioner. It also provides a sound basis for progression to an MSc or more specialist study (such as the NEBOSH Specialist Diploma in Environmental Management).

It provides the core health and safety knowledge which, combined with understanding and appropriate application, underpins the competent performance of an Occupational Health and Safety Practitioner.

The qualification is divided into four units, each of which is assessed separately:

  • Unit IA: International management of health and safety
  • Unit IB: International control of hazardous agents in the workplace
  • Unit IC: International workplace and work equipment safety
  • Unit ID: International application of health and safety theory and practice

Students may choose to take individual units in any order over a five year period. The syllabus content is detailed in Table 2 below.

International recognition

International recognition of health and safety qualifications is becoming increasingly important. The term “international recognition” is simply defined as:

  • A qualification which originated in one country that has now been recognised either formally or informally in another country as providing a good standard of education in a particular subject, in this case health and safety; or
  • A qualification that has been adopted by a company which operates in different countries as a corporate standard.
  • The “recognition” of a qualification in another country can be a formal process where educational qualifications are compared with similar national qualifications or can be an informal recognition of the worth of a qualification by an individual.

Recognition by regulatory bodies and governments

Government recognition of qualifications is an important aspect of qualification development. A number of governments across the region, e.g. in Bahrain, have a process of formally recognising qualifications before they can be delivered in the country. The government checks that the qualification has been awarded by a recognised overseas institution, it is based on defined standards and that documents submitted are not fraudulent. In some countries, e.g. Trinidad, funding is awarded by the Government to undertake these recognised qualifications.

In October 2000, NEBOSH became the first health and safety awarding body to be accredited by the UK regulatory authorities: The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) in England, the Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills (DCELLS) in Wales and the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) in Northern Ireland.

Our National General Certificate and National Construction Certificate are accredited at Level 3 (equivalent to A level standard) in the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) by the regulatory authorities: QCA (Qualifications and Curriculum Authority) in England, DELLS (Department of Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills) in Wales and CCEA (Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment) in Northern Ireland. Our two National Diplomas in Occupational Health and Safety and Environmental Management are accredited at Level 6 (equivalent to a Bachelor’s degree with honours).

Unit 1A Unit 1B Unit 1C
Principles of health and safety management Loss causation and incident investigation Identifying hazards, assessing and evaluating risk Risk control and emergency planning Organisational factors Human factors Principles of health and safety law Measuring health and safety performance General aspects of occupational health and hygiene Principles of toxicology and epidemiology Chemical agents – evaluating risk Hazardous substances-preventive and protective measures Hazardous substances – monitoring and maintenance of control measures Biological agents Physical agents 1 – noise and vibration Physical agents 2 – radiation and thermal environment Psycho-social agents Ergonomic agents General workplace issues Principles of fire and explosion Workplace fire risk assessment The storage, handling and processing of dangerous substances Work equipment Machinery safety Mechanical handling Electrical safety Safety in construction and demolition Environmental pollution and waste Management

Recognition by companies and individuals

It is vital that both the individuals who take examinations and the companies, who pay for the examination, are confident that the qualification is worthwhile. This may be because the possessing the qualification is a legal requirement to work, for example, the Safety Officer course that is run in some Gulf States or it leads to recognition or membership of a professional/certifying body such as BCSP or IOSH. Recognition may be the result of prior experience of the “worth” of the qualification to the organisation or role. For a qualification to be perceived as worthwhile it must have a reputation for relevance, fairness and integrity.

Recognition by trade groups

A number of industries are keen to supplement existing health and safety qualifications with other qualification which address the specific risks faced by their industry. NEBOSH are currently piloting a certificate qualification for the oil and gas industry and are consulting on the syllabus for an international construction qualification.

Recognition by professional bodies

The Institution of Occupational Health and Safety (IOSH) is the professional body in the UK to which most safety practitioners across all industries belong. There are no legal requirements for people working in safety to belong to a professional institution although this is generally becoming the norm. The Institution developed professional certificate examinations in the early 1970’s which were the first general health and safety qualification in the UK.

From November 2005, in order to obtain Chartered IOSH membership (CMIOSH), applicants have needed to demonstrate both underpinning knowledge obtained via a professional qualification or IOSH’s own Open Assessment and competent performance in the workplace. This is evidenced by an NVQ Level 4 in Occupational Health and Safety Practice or a portfolio demonstrating competent performance produced post qualification.

The NEBOSH National General Certificate, National Construction Certificate, Certificate in Fire Safety and Risk Management and International General Certificate are all accepted as meeting the academic requirements to apply for Technician membership (Tech IOSH) of IOSH and Associate membership (AIIRSM) of the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management (IIRSM).

The recently introduced International Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety based on the successful UK specific version is the premier qualification for those wishing to become safety practitioners. It is accepted as meeting the academic requirements to apply for Chartered membership of IOSH and full Membership (MIIRSM) of IIRSM.

Holders of the revised National Diploma in Environmental Management may apply for Associate membership (AIEMA) of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA – This qualification is also accepted by the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management (IIRSM) as meeting the academic requirements for Associate membership (AIIRSM).

Benefits of recognition

International recognised qualifications allow for a common standard of training to be delivered in companies which operate across the world. This is possible because they are based on international standards (e.g., International Labour Organisation) rather than rigid legislative frameworks. This is seen by many companies as helping to set common standards and as helping to raise standards in some countries.

The syllabus of international qualifications provides the flexibility to teach qualifications locally while ensuring academic standards remain consistent internationally, enabling workers to move from country to country within the same industry.

Students who gain internationally recognised qualifications have the benefit of being able to use their qualifications and competences as a kind of common currency, which can be ‘earned’ in one setting and ‘spent’ in another. In theory students should have the freedom to establish themselves and work anywhere in the world. It is important that the procedure for the mutual recognition of professional qualifications is simple and it is the role of professional bodies, awarding bodies and Governments to ensure this operates correctly.


With the increasing mobility of employees within companies who operate worldwide and in the Gulf region in particular, the value of internationally recognised qualifications to employers and employees cannot be underestimated. NEBOSH offers a wide range of products which are increasingly being recognised as setting the global benchmark for health and safety qualifications.

Published: 10th May 2008 in Health and Safety Middle East

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Barry is an experienced health and safety practitioner, project developer/manager and management systems auditor. He has over 25 years’ experience in health, safety and environmental management and became a Chartered member of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) in 1997.