Effectiveness in any area of professional practice requires engagement with a range of audiences. Effective health and safety management is no different – it requires safety and health professionals to engage with senior managers, human resources and occupational health professionals and GPs, to name but a few. They need to get their messages heard and understood to effect change in the workplace. What could help them do this?

Knowing your subject inside out is important. Made up of three overlapping components – knowledge, skills and experience – competence is about being able to do something efficiently and effectively. But it's also about knowing one's limitations and recognising when it's time to call on others for support and advice. Competence should be proportionate to the safety and health professional's work and the type of organisation they work for.

Of equal importance, is the maintenance of competence, which can be achieved through a structured programme of continuing professional development (CPD). CPD must allow for the maintenance of technical and managerial skills. But knowing your subject isn't enough.

Developments in social, legal, scientific and technological areas impact on the work of the safety and health professional. As a result, they need to respond on a range of complex technical and ethical issues. In a changing world of work, developing a culture of using evidence to inform practice and working with an alongside other disciplines to develop solutions can help effect professional practice.

We start by considering the professional health and safety practitioner, before examining the challenges of competence, continuous professional development, ethical practice, evidence-based practice and multidisciplinary working.

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