Whether you are a young graduate or you possess a decade of experience, you have the skills, the knowledge to showcase how effective you would be as an organization’s health and safety officer.
You may not need it, but it’s still a good idea to prepare yourself to answer the barrage of questions that might get tossed your way. Some may be generic and common, while others may be intricate and esoteric. Either way, it’s always great to be ready for anything that is hurled your way during a job interview.
What are some of the more common questions? And better yet, how do you answer them? Here are 15 common interview questions for health and safety officers, along with some sample answers.
1. “What do you think the position’s day-to-day activities involve?”
The intent of this question is to ensure that you know what the position entails, and that you did not just perform a job application submission blitz to any employer in your area that is searching for a health and safety officer.
This question could be interchangeable with “Did you read the ad?”.
Now, how do you answer the question? While it is not necessary to memorize the job ad, it is critical to know what your daily tasks will consist of. Otherwise, you could damage your odds of you being accepted for the employment opportunity.
Here is an example of how you could answer:
“Based on what was listed in the advertisement, my day-to-day responsibilities would involve documenting work observations, analyzing safety data, reviewing and modifying safety plans and preventing workplace hazards.
I know that things could change at a moment’s notice, and I think that my credentials show that I can adapt to any environment almost immediately.”
2. “Why does this company interest you as a health and safety officer?”
Does the company interest you, or the paycheck?
Indeed, most employers know that their employees are applying their human capital to collect weekly earnings. That said, hiring managers put forward this question to see if you researched the firm and what you liked about it.
Here is an example of how to reply:
“After I read the job ad, I researched your company, and I was impressed by its achievements. I know I want to be a part of an organization that not only values workplace health and safety, but a company that also wants to move beyond the status quo. I think that’s what your business brings to the table: Establishing the bar so that your competitors have to adapt to your high standards.”
3. “What is the risk assessment process?”
Okay, smarty pants. So far, so good. Now let’s see what you know (or don’t know) about your position.
This question is meant to showcase your knowledge about everything related to health and safety. While anyone with a modicum of experience in the sector will answer it correctly, you can still highlight your expertise:
“In the most elementary of terms, the risk-assessment process identifies hazards and risk factors that could spawn severe circumstances. My job is to analyze, evaluate and respond to these risks connected to the hazards.”
4. “What would you do to improve the safety culture in our business?”
In other words, what can you bring to the table without just emulating your predecessor?
In today’s environment, companies are expected to adopt regulations and comply with the myriad of rules imposed on the business by the federal, state/provincial, or municipal government. If not, massive fines and potential lawsuits could be in order for the company, which is why businesses — large and small — will hire a health and safety officer.
You could tackle this question by saying:
“I think that with my knowledge and experience, I can ensure that your company follows the required protocols so that everyone performs their job safely and responsibly.
That said, if I see an area that needs tremendous improvement or I think that certain staff members are not adhering to what we lay out, I will intervene and institute new measures.”
5. “How would you respond if a coworker failed to adhere to our health and safety protocols?”
Will you toe the line? Or will you be a stool pigeon? At first, it might be easy to say that you would reprimand a colleague who refused to abide by the protocols. However, once you become chummy with your coworkers, you might find yourself in a difficult position. What will you do? That’s what the human resources manager wants to know.
Here is something that you could use to reply to this question:
“This is a good question because I always strive to keep the balance between office camaraderie and the rules. Right now, on the outside looking in, I think I would certainly hand out warnings to folks. If they repeatedly violate our rules, I will not hesitate to write them up and submit it to my superior.”
6. “If you heard a colleague talking about nearly having an accident during a task, what would you do?”
Once again, this question’s purpose is to determine how you will manage or direct a team of employees, including the ones you may be friendly with during your shift. If you walk by a conversation about a risky incident, would you intervene or go straight to your superiors? This is a tough question, but a mix of honesty and practicality is the best reply:
“If I overheard a colleague revealing something like this, I would approach them and enquire about what happened. It’s important to know if the incident occurred due to their own actions or because of external factors such as faulty equipment.
In the case of the former, and the person routinely violates protocols or doesn’t take necessary safety steps, that is when action is necessary. But, if it were the latter, then I would have to inspect the situation further before consulting my superiors.”
7. “What would you do if a manager ignored your health and safety report and went as far as asking you to ignore a safety violation?”
This is when it is important to go ahead of your manager and speak with the boss or head honcho. Indeed, if your manager is refusing to comply with a health and safety report, then what are the odds others will, too? This is serious and having the top person at the company intervene is necessary.
You can explain this in your answer:
“The manager is there to set an example and be a leader. If the manager is not charging ahead and implementing recommendations in a health and safety report, this is bad news for the company at large because you want to ensure the wellbeing of all your staff. This could also harm the company’s reputation.
As a health and safety officer, then, it would be my responsibility to report this to a supervisor and ensure the safety of every employee.”
8. “What do you think is more important: productivity or health and safety?”
Believe it or not, the answer to this question is straight-forward, and it does not require a diplomatic response. Remember, your role as a health and safety officer is to enhance the wellbeing of staff. If not, what are you doing there? And you can inform the interviewer of this with this kind of answer:
“Well, my job is to make sure everyone is healthy and safe as they perform their duties. It is up to my colleagues — superiors and subordinates — to find ways to remain productive.
My own duty lies in making recommendations that will create a safer environment for everyone — sometimes this can also result in staff being more productive, as they feel more comfortable in their working conditions.”
9. “What is your management style?”
Laissez-faire, authoritarian or collaborative — everyone has their own managing style. It is important to highlight how you would manage employees from your vantage point. No matter how you would broach the situation, it is imperative to present a reasonable defence as to why. Even if the hiring manager disapproves, they can still be convinced or empathetic to your reasons.
What could you say? Well, perhaps something along the lines of:
“I would describe my managing style as democratic. When I have had to delegate or assign tasks, I took a more collaborative approach. I presented my findings, listed recommendations, and asked for suggestions of their own. Although I’m an expert in my field, I always heed others’ advice because they may have a unique approach to the issue at hand.”
10. “If after six months on the job you have not improved the safety culture within our firm, what would you do?”
Before you consider how to answer this question, you should know that termination is not the only solution to this conundrum. Indeed, there are many different approaches to take if things are not improving, and unless the owner or HR manager is a tyrannical micromanager, your neck is not always on the line.
So, that said, what is the best way to handle this kind of situation?
“I think I am capable of improving the safety culture of any organization within six months. However, if this doesn’t happen, then I think it would be time to hold a meeting with my superiors and discuss the areas which may still need further improvements as well as rethink our approach.
A little bit of enforcement, a new way of grappling with problems and engaging with each employee could be some of the tactics I would employ. Perhaps something of a down-up strategy rather than a top-down one. But, once again, I trust my abilities to have a positive impact on your company within such a time frame.”
11. “How do you stay up to date with current safety regulations?”
Continuing to learn while you work is important in any profession. After all, we live in a fast-changing world, so keeping up with all the latest happenings in your field is necessary to doing your job right. And, when your job involves keeping people safe, it’s absolutely essential that you do it right. Acknowledge this in your answer.
“Staying up to date with all the federal, state, and local legislation is an integral part of this job. It’s how we can best ensure people’s safety within any working environment.
Frequently checking the federal registers for documents by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration is one way of accessing the latest, most reliable resources. So is using a compliance management software, which gets updated when laws change.”
12. “How would you conduct a safety audit for our company?”
Whether you love or hate them, safety audits are an excellent way of assessing where a company’s health and safety performance is at, uncovering any gaps, and providing actionable steps to get it to where it needs to be. Refresh your memory on the following steps, as this interview question is likely to come up.
“First of all, I would decide on how frequently the safety audits need to be carried out. If any area of the firm poses greater health and safety risks to our employees, I would conduct audits in that area more often. Focusing on one or two areas at a time is best, as it allows for a more in-depth look.
Then I would review past incidences, identify present hazards, and go over existing company policies. Once my safety inspections and report are complete, I would consult management to find the best way to share the details with everyone on the team. I believe that informing all staff members and providing safety training where necessary is a guaranteed way of enhancing safety.”
13. “Can you describe the benefits of having a job safety analysis procedure?”
Your hiring manager might refer to this as either a job safety analysis (JSA) or job hazard analysis (JHA) procedure. Either way, you’ll need to tick off several mental boxes when answering this one. How many can you think off the top of your head?
“The first and foremost advantage of carrying out a job safety analysis is that it minimizes the risk for injury in any given role. Through careful observation, we can break down a task into steps and identify any previously undetected risks.
A written step-by-step guide with our findings, safety precautions, and preventive recommendations could then be used when training new employees.
Finally, breaking down a job into a sequence of steps would also allow us to assess whether each one is in compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards.”
14. “Walk us through the steps in developing a hazard communication plan.”
Wherever workers might be exposed to harmful chemicals, the OSHA requires the drawing up of a hazard communication plan. Though perfectly clear (and reasonable), this is the second most common safety violation cited.
“It’s very common for this regulation to be overlooked, unfortunately. Developing a hazard communication plan, however, isn’t difficult; it just requires some time.
First, a safety data sheet needs to be present for every chemical found in the workplace. Containers need to be clearly labeled, and each employee needs to receive training regarding hazards and protective equipment and measures.
For non-routine tasks, there also needs to be a specified way of communicating hazards to employees.
All this information should be written down accessibly and available to employees upon request.”
15. “Tell us about a dangerous violation you encountered and how you intervened.”
Workplace safety violations come in all forms, either due to negligence or a lack of proper training. From chemicals being poured down the sink to unsecured scaffold planks, you’ve probably witnessed a violation or two in your career. Speaking of working at height, falls are the second leading cause of unintentional injury deaths in the world, according to the WHO — and entirely preventable.
“The worst safety violation I have witnessed was at a construction site. The workers were standing on incomplete scaffolding, with no appropriate access ladders and a massive gap under their feet.
As a result, a worker attempted to climb up using the cross braces, which I thankfully noticed and stopped right away. I ordered everyone to pause their work and instructed them on how to properly set up their work platform. I then informed the construction manager about the incident.”
Knowing how to answer a safety officer interview question can be tricky. You may have an idea of what the interviewer will ask, but there are times when they come out of the left field, making you look like a deer in the headlights during the interview.
That said, when you are knowledgeable about your industry and feel confident in your abilities, you don’t need to feel intimidated. You are the expert, remember that!
Can you think of any additional health and safety interview questions and answers? Let us know in the comments section below!
Originally published 9 December 2020. Updated by Electra Michaelidou.