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Choosing a Health and Safety qualification: NEBOSH Certificate vs NVQ vs NCFE IOSH Level 3

Choosing a health and safety qualification can be a bit of a nightmare, especially when you're new to the industry.Which accrediting body do I go with? Which course will get me more job opportunities? What will I learn? How do I want to study? These are some of the most common questions we hope this blog will help you answer. 

September 2019

This blog was updated in August 2022 to reflect the changes in syllabus and course information of the NEBOSH Certificate, NVQ and NCFEIOSH Level 3.

Choosing a health and safety qualification can be a bit of a nightmare, especially when you're new to the industry. Which accrediting body do I go with? Which course will get me more job opportunities? What will I learn? How do I want to study? 

These are all valid questions I'm sure you're asking yourself. And we're here to answer them for you. 

There are three main qualifications for health and safety beginners in the UK:

  • NEBOSH General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety
  • NVQ Level 3 Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety
  • NCFE IOSH Level 3 Certificate in Safety and Health for Business

They'll all get the ball rolling on your health and safety career. But they all offer a different learning experience. Here are some of the main differences between the 3 courses to help you decide which one is best for you. 

Course overview

NEBOSH National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety

The NEBOSH General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety (NGC) is the most trusted health and safety qualification in the world. Over 250,000 learners have passed the course since it was launched.

The course gives you an understanding of how to manage general workplace issues and covers all the areas you would expect to encounter in a health and safety role. Like HSE legislation, management systems, risk assessment, accident and incident investigations, safe systems of work, reporting, performance reviews, hazard control and more.

The NEBOSH General Certificate equips people with everything they need to know and do to make their workplace safer: combining knowledge and practical skills. It gives employers the confidence that NEBOSH Certificate qualified staff have the key skills to manage health and safety effectively.

Because it's a foundation level course, you don't need any health and safety experience or knowledge to take it. Which makes it suitable for everyone from HR managers and general supervisors, to budding health and safety officers and even company directors. 

The NEBOSH General Certificate is largely recognised as the essential qualification for those starting out in health and safety. It provides a starting point for other NEBOSH courses, like the NEBOSH Diploma or NEBOSH Construction Certificate.  

The NEBOSH General Certificate is assessed in a two-step process:

  • NG1/IG1: An online open book exam (OBE) and supporting closing interview
  • NG2/IG2: A workplace-based practical risk assessment

You need to pass both assessments to achieve your qualification.

The open book exam replaces the 2-hour written exam for Unit NG1/IG1 of the NEBOSH General Certificate. You can now sit both of your NEBOSH exams in your own home or another safe and suitable location.

NEBOSH also offer an International version of the course for people working outside of the UK. Take a look here for more information on the difference between the two. 


NVQ Level 3 in Occupational Health and Safety


The NVQ Level 3 Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety is a work-related, competency based qualification. It won't necessarily teach you anything new, but it'll help you assess your current knowledge and skills by submitting evidence of your workplace activities.

Completion of the NVQ can take as little as 4 weeks as long as you are prepared to work with the NVQ assessor and gather the right portfolio of evidence. There are 5 mandatory units to complete and two optional units to choose from. 

Because it's a work-based qualification, you'll need to already be working in a health and safety role with a good level of responsibility. The NVQ is completed through the assessment of the portfolio of evidence.  So if the thought of studying and taking exams scares you, then this will be a good option. 


NCFE IOSH Level 3 Certificate in Safety and Health for Business


This NCFE IOSH Level 3 is a relatively new qualification. It takes a business and technical focus to health and safety by looking at an employers current issues.

It's very strategic, and focuses on how companies can adapt to long term trends, like "how to drive" programmes and cultural change. There's also a strong focus on health and well-being including health hazards, health assessment, global health trends and good practice.

Similar to the NVQ, the NCFA IOSH Level 3 is a portfolio based qualification. So you'll need to already be working in a health and safety role to take it.   


Course Content

NEBOSH General Certificate


The NEBOSH General Certificate has 2 units. 

NG1/IG1 - a taught unit to develop your knowledge. This is split into 11 elements:

  • Element 1: Why we should manage workplace health and safety
  • Element 2: How health and safety management systems work and what they look like
  • Element 3: Managing risk – understanding people and processes
  • Element 4: Health and safety monitoring and measuring
  • Element 5: Physical and psychological health
  • Element 6: Musculoskeletal health
  • Element 7: Chemical and biological agents
  • Element 8: General workplace issues
  • Element 9: Work equipment
  • Element 10: Fire
  • Element 11: Electricity 

NG2/IG2 - a practical unit to develop your skills. This consists of a practical risk assessment. 


NVQ Level 3


To get your NVQ certificate, you need to achieve a total of 31 credits: 23 credits from the mandatory units (301-305) and a minimum of 8 credits from the optional units (306-309):

  • Unit 301: Ensure responsibility for actions to reduce risks to health and safety (4 credits)
  • Unit 302: Develop procedures to safely control work operations (4 credits)
  • Unit 303: Monitor procedures to safely control work operations (5 credits)
  • Unit 304: Promote a culture of health and safety in the workplace (4 credits)
  • Unit 305: Conduct a health and safety risk assessment of the workplace (6 credits)
  • Unit 306: Investigate and evaluate health and safety incidents and complaints in the workplace (5 credits)
  • Unit 307: Make sure actions in the workplace aim to protect the environment (4 credits)
  • Unit 308: Review health and safety procedures in the workplace (4 credits)
  • Unit 309: Supervise the health, safety and welfare of a learner in the workplace (4 credits)


NCFE IOSH Level 3


There are 3 units for the IOSH level 3. You need to pass all 3 to get your full qualification: 

  • Unit 1 - Safety and health management in an organisation
  • Unit 2 - How to influence a safety and health culture within an organisation
  • Unit 3 - A strategic, business focused approach to safety and health

Course Duration

NEBOSH General Certificate


The NEBOSH General Certificate has a recommend study time of  between 110-120 hours. But how you carry out those study hours depends on the learning method you choose: Classroom, Virtual Classroom, Online or Onlineplus+

Online and Virtual Classroom are the most popular learning methods for taking the NEBOSH Certificate course. 


NVQ level 3


The NVQ is completed in your own time and workplace. It usually takes between 6-24 months to achieve, but again, the duration of tutor support will vary between course providers.


NCFE IOSH Level 3


The NCFE IOSH Level 3 is also a work-based qualification, so you organise your own time to complete the learning outcomes and assessments. To complete the whole qualification, you'll need 120 hours and around 60 of those should be guided by your course provider. 


Assessment

NEBOSH General Certificate


The NEBOSH General Certificate has two assessments:

  • NG1: Online open-book exam
  • NG2: Practical risk assessment


NVQ level 3


The NVQ level 3 certificate is entirely work-based with no formal exams or assignments. Instead, you are assessed through a portfolio of evidence based on the criteria within the qualification.


Qualification Recognition

NEBOSH General Certificate


NEBOSH (The National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health) is an awarding body in health and safety. Their qualifications attracts 70,000 learners worldwide each year, with exams taken in over 120 countries. 

"More than a third (38%) of vacancies called for a NEBOSH Certificate level qualification...Overall, 92% of [health and safety job advertisements] asked for either some form of NEBOSH qualification and/or Membership of IOSH" - NEBOSH Jobs Barometer

The NEBOSH General Certificate meets the requirements for membership of professional bodies including:

  • Associate Membership of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (AIOSH)
  • Technical Membership of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (TechIOSH)
  • Associate Membership of the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management (IIRSM)

It also provides a solid foundation for further study. Many learners go on to take their NEBOSH National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety and become competent safety professionals with much greater responsibility and higher salaries.


NVQ level 3


The NVQ level 3 certificate is awarded by City and Guilds, an international leader in skills development across a spectrum of industries. It meets the requirements for membership of professional membership including:

  • Technical Membership of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (TechIOSH)
  • Associate Membership of the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management (IIRSM)


NCFE IOSH Level 3


NCFE IOSH Level 3 is awarded by NCFE, formerly the Northern Council for Further Education.

Astutis is a Gold NEBOSH Partner and one of the leading training providers of Health, Safety and Environmental courses worldwide. Upskill yourself and evolve your career today!

Looking to study an environmental course? Take a look at our blog for some advice.

NEBOSH qualifications offer support at every stage of your career. Learn more about the flexible learning available for all courses and start your journey today. 

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