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Aug 04

David Sharp

NEBOSH certificate programme: the ‘new’ normal


A brief history

Since the launch in 1989 of the National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety, NEBOSH has been the dominant force in the health and safety qualifications market, first in the UK and then internationally. Further derivatives of the course in the areas of fire safety, construction and health and wellbeing saw it entrench its position as the market leader.

While the breadth of subject matter and rigor behind the qualification was unquestioned, in recent years NEBOSH has found its position under threat. The arrival of the National Compliance and Risk Qualifications (NCRQ) introduced a more flexible alternative, covering largely the same ground and potentially leading to the same Tech IOSH status at the time. For learners, it did away with the need to attend classroom courses or sit formal examinations, and the costs were lower too. Many preferred the assignment approach that allowed them to submit real-life project work as part of their course, to help both themselves and their employer.

Then in 2017 IOSH launched the IOSH General Certificate, and while the Institution was at pains to point out it wasn’t intended to be a competitor to NEBOSH certificate courses, it was widely seen as targeting the same broad customer base.

International Workplace only delivers NEBOSH’s certificate-level programmes (hence the focus here), but many of these arguments apply equally at diploma level where NEBOSH’s market dominance finds itself under similar threat.

Need for change

It’s worth reiterating why change was needed. Many NEBOSH certificate students haven’t studied for a long time and find the course and written exams intimidating. In very few working environments do you spend a morning writing for two hours non-stop using a ballpoint pen in a high-pressure environment – and then do it all again in the afternoon. Some loved it, but those tended to be people who could retain and regurgitate lots of information, who were naturally good at written exams. That’s not everyone. And exam success didn’t always translate into competency in role.

From a training provider’s perspective, venue hire, refreshments, couriers, trainers, exam invigilators, project-marking and associated administration all added significant cost that was not always covered by income, meaning courses sometimes ran at a loss, or else were cancelled altogether. Frustrating for everyone, and not good for business.

What’s new?

The great news is that NEBOSH has responded to these challenges, and in a way that should make its certificate-level courses much more accessible and attractive for training providers and learners alike.

First and most importantly, there have been changes to the way learners are assessed. The two written exams (NGC1 and GC2 for the National General Certificate) have been merged into one exam, NG1. This was something that was planned anyway, under the new syllabus that came into effect on 31 March 2020.

In response to the pandemic, the NG1 exam is now an open-book exam (or OBE, as NEBOSH refer to it) which can be completed remotely online. No ballpoint pens, no exam rooms, and no searching for your nearest exam centre. The NG1 has to be completed within four hours during a 24-hour time period on a national date booked with NEBOSH, but it puts the student much more in control and vastly reduces the cost and administrative burden for training providers.

Training providers will conduct a ‘closing interview’ with candidates once they’ve completed the OBE, which will be an important part of the process. This can be done remotely, via a video-style call during which the learner’s ID can be confirmed with a qualified practitioner who signs off to validate the candidate’s work – and importantly, must be undertaken without notes.

The practical assessment (formerly GC3, now NG2 for the National General Certificate) can also be completed in the student’s own workplace or a location of their choice and is submitted by the candidate to NEBOSH direct. Again, quicker, more efficient, and lower cost.

“It truly is an exciting time to be delivering NEBOSH certificate courses.”


The combined impact of these changes should see an increase in the number of courses offered, with savings passed on to students and their employers.

While the pandemic has been difficult for many, one thing it has helped to promote is the use of virtual meetings to deliver live tutor sessions remotely. With the success of our IOSH virtual training course programme, we’re confident we’ll enjoy similar success with our NEBOSH courses later this year – so watch this space for our first NEBOSH virtual classroom public courses this autumn.

We think these changes should also see increased interest from students who had perhaps shied away from NEBOSH because it was too ‘formal’ for them or it perhaps didn’t suit their learning style or assessment preferences. Hopefully this will help them feel less intimidated and therefore make this valuable qualification more accessible to a wider audience. It truly is an exciting time to be delivering NEBOSH courses.

Just before we get too excited …

NEBOSH should be applauded for its rapid response to the challenges of competition and the pandemic, but these changes will take some time to bed in. The first open-book exam (OBE) for the National General Certificate has been scheduled for 6 August 2020, but NEBOSH understandably wants to learn the lessons from this new approach before committing to further exam dates and/or rolling it out to other certificate-level qualifications.

The change in syllabus earlier this year also needs to be thought about. For the National General Certificate, that meant that new courses taught after 31 March 2020 must be taught under the new syllabus. However, anyone taught under the old syllabus and who needs to re-sit GC2 and GC3 course units they’ve failed will need to re-take the old written exams and/or complete the practical application, rather than be able to go down the OBE route. The good news is that they have until 31 August 2021 to do this.

These are exciting changes that do give you more options. It could be an opportunity to study more flexibly and maybe benefit from a reduction in course fees. Students who did not pass (NEBOSH’s terminology is that they have been “referred”) one of the units on the previous version of the NEBOSH certificate course might even consider starting a new course again, rather than trying to re-sit under the old syllabus.

For students and their employers, it’s worth talking to your training provider about what these changes might mean to you. Please get in touch on 0333 210 1995 or email, we’d be happy to help.

David Sharp

CEO at International Workplace

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