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Last updated: 04.01.22

What is the Difference Between IOSH and NEBOSH?

When it comes to health and safety training, there is a huge range of different providers and organisations out there. Two names that may come up a lot are IOSH and NEBOSH, which are two of the UK’s largest governing bodies for workplace health and safety.

Whether you’re looking into taking a health and safety course as part of professional development or you work in an industry that requires specific qualifications from official organisations, it’s important to understand the difference between IOSH and NEBOSH. This post gives background on the two organisations, as well as explaining the key differences between them and when each is the best choice for a training course.

What is IOSH?

IOSH stands for Institution of Occupational Safety and Health and is the world’s largest chartered membership body for health and safety training and standards. It’s an organisation based in the UK that offers a range of professional-level qualifications that ensure high standards of health and safety in the workplace.

IOSH training refers to any of the courses provided by this organisation, which are some of the most widely recognised HSE accreditations across the world. They are suitable for employees of all levels and cover basic advice and recommendations for staying safe in the workplace and ensuring that those around you stay safe and healthy as well.

Those who become members of IOSH are demonstrating that they have a strong commitment to upholding health and safety principles. This can be a particular benefit when applying for roles that require a certain level of responsibility for others or those that take place in an environment that poses certain health and safety risks.

There are two key IOSH safety courses offered by the organisation that are known as some of the best general health and safety qualifications that both managers and general employees can take. These are ‘Managing Safely’ and ‘Working Safety’, which are explained in more detail below.

IOSH Managing Safely

IOSH Managing Safely is the leading course across the world for those in managerial positions who want to learn more about workplace health and safety and ensure that the employees they are responsible for stay safe whilst they are at work. It’s a Level 2 qualification, which means that it’s equivalent to a GCSE.

The course aims to leave those in a managerial position with an understanding of their responsibilities in the workplace. They will be taught how to carry out risk assessments, manage common workplaces hazards, understand the requirements of relevant HSE legislation and measure and improve the health and safety measures in their place of work.

Modules in the syllabus include an introduction to general health and safety, how to investigate health and safety incidents, common human factors that affect health and safety, how to assess potential risks, how to control risk, common workplace hazards, what the responsibilities of a manager are, and how to measure the performance of workplace health and safety measures.

The IOSH Managing Safely course can be completed in-person at a training centre or online as an e-learning course and is available through a range of different training providers. Some employers organise a certified IOSH trainer to come into the workplace and deliver the course directly, which is a good option when multiple members of staff need the qualification.

Gaining the IOSH Managing Safely qualification usually takes around three days if done all at once. To pass, participants must take a question-based exam and then complete a practical work-based risk assessment task.

IOSH Working Safely

IOSH Working Safely is the other most popular course available through the organisation, aimed at any worker who would like to know more about general health and safety. It’s suitable for employees in all industries and is an entry-level qualification that provides a suitable foundation for more focused health and safety courses in the future.

The aim of IOSH Working Safely is to show anyone that they can improve their safety and protect their health and wellbeing through simple steps that will make a big difference in the workplace environment. It covers very basic health and safety advice, including modules such as how to define hazards and risks, how to identify common hazards in the workplace, how to improve safety performance and an introduction to working safely in general.

Because IOSH Working Safely is a basic qualification, it only takes a day to complete. The training required can be delivered in person, in an official training centre or online through a provider such as Virtual College. To gain the qualification, participants will need to complete a multiple-choice question quiz and a hazard-spotting exercise.

What is NEBOSH?

NEBOSH stands for the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health. It’s an official UK-based examination body for the health and safety industry, offering standardised examination content to health and safety training providers across the world.

Whilst there are NEBOSH qualifications suitable for employees at all stages of their career in a range of industries, the examinations and course content offered by the organisation tend to be considered more suitable for those who work specifically in health and safety roles or industries where risks are prevalent in the workplace.

Because NEBOSH is an examination body, it doesn’t provide the training for any of the qualifications itself. Instead, these are offered by a range of different organisations, and only the examinations themselves are hosted by NEBOSH.

Many jobs in the health and safety industry require specific NEBOSH qualifications to undertake certain responsibilities. The qualifications offered by the examination board are varied, ranging from general health and safety to specific syllabus’s focusing on things like fire safety and construction hazard control.

One of the best-known qualifications certified by NEBOSH is the National General Certificate, which is one of the UK’s most popular health and safety qualifications.

NEBOSH National General Certificate

The NEBOSH National General Certificate is considered an essential qualification for anyone hoping for a career in the health and safety industry. It’s a Level 2 qualification, which makes it equivalent to a GCSE.

There are two main units involved in the National General certificate; Unit NG1 and Unit NG2. NG1 focuses on the general management of workplace health and safety, including the reasons why it is important and common health and safety management and monitoring systems. NG2 goes into more detail on areas that should be considered in a workplace risk assessment, such as physical and psychological health, workplace equipment and common risks in a working environment.

NEBOSH National General Certificate is assessed with an open-book examination, which participants have up to four hours to complete and are usually held every three months in an assessment centre that is invigilated. There is also a practical examination consisting of a workplace-based risk assessment task, which builds on the topics covered in Unit NG2.

The general guidance is that it takes around 10 days to complete all of the course material covered by a NEBOSH National General Certificate qualification, or between 80-120 hours of independent study if you are learning the course content online.

What are the differences between IOSH and NEBOSH?

The key difference between IOSH and NEBOSH is that IOSH is a chartered membership body that offers health and safety training, whereas NEBOSH is an examination board that provides qualifications for its course but does not actually offer the course content itself. You can complete IOSH training and sit the exam all through an accredited provider, whilst NEBOSH courses are delivered by other organisations but examined by the board itself.

Another important difference is that IOSH offers entry-level courses for people from all kinds of industries, whilst the courses offered by NEBOSH tend to require more of a background in health and safety, with some specifically designed for those who work in certain roles. If you’re looking for general health and safety training then IOSH is probably more suitable, whereas those pursuing a career in workplace health and safety will fare better with a qualification from NEBOSH.

Both IOSH and NEBOSH are highly respected and offer the top health and safety courses in the UK, but courses from NEBOSH are generally considered to be more ‘academic’ because there is more content to cover and the exams are more rigorous. You’ll get the same standard of education whichever course you take, but in the health and safety industry, NEBOSH courses may be held in slightly higher esteem.

NEBOSH or IOSH - Which is Better?

The question as to which is better, NEBOSH or IOSH really comes down to what you are hoping to get out of taking a health and safety training course.

If you work in a job that has no major health and safety risks, and just want to improve your general knowledge on the topic, then IOSH training is probably the best out of the two. Managers in particular may feel that undertaking the IOSH Managing Safely course is best for their role, as this covers how to keep other employees safe when you are in a managerial role.

If you work in an industry where health and safety is particularly important, or are hoping to begin a career in a health and safety role, a NEBOSH qualification is your best option. Some roles may request that you complete courses from this examination board as a requirement for the position, and some industries like construction or manufacturing may need employees to undertake health and safety training specific to their line of work, which NEBOSH provides.

FAQs

How long does an IOSH certificate last?

Once you have completed the IOSH qualification and received your certificate, it technically never expires. However, any IOSH certificate holder must attend a refresher course every three years to stay up-to-date on health and safety advice and retain their qualification, so many people say that the IOSH certificate lasts three years.

Which is higher, IOSH or NEBOSH?

NEBOSH qualifications take much longer to complete than IOSH training and therefore have a high level of qualification at the end. Whilst IOSH courses can be completed by anyone and provide general awareness of health and safety, NEBOSH Level 3 certificates provide a more comprehensive understanding and a NEBOSH Level 6 diploma is equivalent to a degree qualification.

How long does NEBOSH take?

According to official guidance, there are 80-120 hours of study needed to complete the NEBOSH General Certificate. The NEBOSH National Diploma requires a longer period of study as it is a more comprehensive health and safety qualification, taking most people between 9-36 months to complete.

Summary

IOSH courses are a fantastic introduction to workplace health and safety no matter what role or industry you work in, providing a comprehensive background in risk assessment and protecting yourself and those around you. NEBOSH courses are also a brilliant way to build on existing health and safety knowledge or develop more of a specialist awareness of risk in various workplace environments.


If you’re looking to complete the IOSH Working Safely course through a certified provider, Virtual College offers a complete online training program and printed certificate upon completion. You can learn more about the course by clicking here.

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