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It’s a well-known fact in health & safety that NEBOSH exams are tough, but that’s not
to say they are impossible. The guidance that follows is intended to give you some
final key pointers for the big day, and coupled with a comprehensive study and
revision programme, should get you through just fine.

Action Verbs
Take note of the “action verb” at the start of each question. As a general rule, if a
question asks you to “Identify”, “state” or “list” then a simple list will do. If however,
the question asks for “outline”, “describe” or “explain”, then your answer should be in
sentences, preferably with an example to illustrate.

Read the Question

The clue is in the question! However simple it may seem, make sure you read the
question properly, maybe even underlining key points (you can write on your question
papers). It is imperative that you answer the question that has been set, not the one
you wish had been set.

Keep it Brief
We have already said that you must comply with the action verb, but do not be
tempted to waffle on or give long introductions to your answer – this is not required. If
a question asks for control measures for working at height, that is what will be on the
marking scheme. There will be no marks available for introducing your answer with
statistics on numbers injured falling from height.

There are no marks for “star quality” or knowing Lord Roben’s birthday – just answer
the question.

Certain questions allow you to give your answers in a certain structure. Sometimes
there will be marks available for just using the structure, but even if they are not, the
structure will help you think a little more laterally.

As an example, if the question relates to risk assessment, it is helpful to go through

the 5 steps of risk assessment. This applies whether the question relates to a specific
situation or type of risk assessment e.g. manual handling, fire, COSHH etc.
If the question is about human factors, then split your answer into Organisation, Job
and Individual factors.
For questions about management systems or strategies, split the answer into the
elements of HSG65.
If the question relates to reasons for improving safety, structure the answer into
moral, economic and legal factors.

Plan Ahead
For the longer questions (20 markers or case studies), then an answer plan should
be prepared. This is a simple outline of what you will cover in your answer. It
might be bullet points, or a mind-map – whatever suits you.
When you’re done, draw a line under it and start putting your plan into proper
This is important. There are certain answers which will be relevant time and time
again, for example: risk assessment, training, supervision, PPE etc. Put reproducing
this list without relating it to the specific question will not gain marks – let’s look at
some examples to illustrate the point:

“Outline the precautions to be taken when a minor repair is to be carried out on a

fragile roof” (NEBOSH Diploma Part One, June 1998).

 Carry out a risk assessment – 0 marks

 Carry out an initial risk assessment to identify the hazards from roof work and
decide on the necessary precautions – 1 mark

 Provide adequate information, instruction and training – 0 marks

 Provide information, instruction and training on the hazards and associated
precautions involved in roof work – 1 mark

 Provide suitable PPE – 0 marks

 Provide PPE for groups at risk, e.g. hard hats for people below – 1 mark

 Provide adequate levels supervision – 0 marks

 Provide adequate supervision to ensure that the method statement/safe system
of work is followed – 1 mark

Question timing is vital to success. You cannot afford to spend too long on some
questions, to the detriment of others. The approximate timings you should try to stick
to are as follows:

Diploma 1 Paper 1

Action Timing
Read through exam paper 5 minutes
15 Short answer questions (10 marks) 9 minutes each
Check answers 10 minutes

Diploma 1 Paper 2

Action Timing
Read through exam paper 10 minutes
5 Long answer questions (20 marks) 25 minutes each
Check answers 15 minutes

Diploma 2 Paper 1

Action Timing
Read through exam paper 5 minutes
10 Short answer questions (10 marks) 8 minutes each
Case study (100 marks) 1 hr 20 minutes
Check answers 15 minutes
Diploma 2 Paper 2

Action Timing
Read through exam paper 10 minutes
5 Long answer questions (20 marks) 30 minutes each
Check answers 20 minutes

Of course these are not precise, but are useful as a general guide. Even if you are an
expert on a particular subject, there is no benefit on writing reams and reams on the
answer – use your allocated time and move on. Similarly, if you get a question where
you have no idea, try not to leave it blank and move on – use your allocated time and
try to get something down. Maybe a couple of “bankers” might be relevant? Those
couple of points may just make the difference.

Legislation/Case Law
Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to be a law expert or have a photographic
memory to pass NEBOSH exams. What you do need though, is a grasp of
fundamental principles of legislation and case law, and be able to relate them to
different scenarios. It is not important to remember the precise years of legislation or
case law (although if you forget the year of the Health & Safety at Work Act, do you
expect to pass????). Neither is it a requirement to learn regulation numbers off by
heart – if you could say, for example, that the Management of Health & Safety at
Work Regs require all employers to carry out risk assessments, or the Provision and
Use of Work Equipment Regs require all work equipment to be maintained, that will
Abbreviations are fine, but give their title in full to start with e.g. The Personal
Protective Equipment Regs (PPE) require employers to provide PPE to employees
where required.

Check your Answers

As with any exam, leave yourself some time at the end to go through your answers.
Make sure you have answered the question that was asked and add any extra points
that have occurred to you – it can’t hurt, and they may just make the difference!

Worked Example
OK we’ve talked about all the theory – now let’s put it all together and try to give a
perfect answer to a recent exam question:

“Volunteers are involved in collecting bags of books, clothes and other donated
goods from householders. The bags are loaded into vans for delivery to a chain of
charity shops. Explain how the charity should assess the risks to the charity workers,
identifying the particular issues that would need to be considered at each stage of
the assessment” (NEBOSH Diploma Part One, June 2003)

First things first – look at the action verbs. You are being asked to explain how the
problem should be assessed and identify the particular issues at key stages.
Re-read the question now, and underline your key signposts:

“Volunteers (unskilled, no selection criteria?) are involved in collecting bags (manual

handling – size, weight, shape etc.) of books, clothes and other donated goods from
householders (violence, dogs etc.). The bags are loaded into vans (driven by who?
Vehicle hazards) for delivery to a chain of charity shops. Explain how the charity
should assess the risks (assess the risks, not control them) to the charity workers,
identifying the particular issues that would need to be considered at each stage of
the assessment” (NEBOSH Diploma Part One, June 2003)
As this question is essentially about how to carry out a risk assessment, the 5 steps
approach would be a good structure to follow. This question was worth 20 marks, so
a plan would be in order:


1. Identify hazards
 Manual Handling
 Violence
 Animals
 Contents of bags
 Vehicles
2. Decide who can be harmed
 Volunteers – old, untrained, health problems, how many?
3. Evaluate risks
 Probability/severity
 Frequency/duration
 Evaluate existing controls
 Legal requirements
4. Record
5. Review
Draw a line under your plan and continue:


No need for a flowery intro about how many injuries are cause by manual handling or
where risk assessment comes from – just get on with it!!


The first stage of a risk assessment is concerned with identifying hazards, which in
this case may be as follows:
 Violent assault by members of the public or being attacked by dangerous dogs
 Musculoskeletal disorders caused by lifting bags or constraints on posture when
working inside the vans
 Injuries caused by the contents of the bags e.g. sharps or chemicals
 Slips, trips and falls due to uneven surfaces, kerbs, steps etc.
 Traffic accidents involving the vans, especially if they were poorly maintained or
the bags caused an obstruction inside
 Vans being struck by other road vehicles
 Poor lighting due to work in the evenings or in autumn/winter
 Weather conditions could be a problem especially if particularly hot, wet, cold or
 Lone working which may result in a lack of communication between volunteers
and their supervisors
 Manual handling would be the major hazard due to a variety of factors: The bags
may have to be carried for long distances and there will be a large amount of
repetitive handling. Lots of stooping and twisting may also be required inside the
van. The bags themselves may be heavy or bulky, and as their contents are
unknown, may be unstable or unpredictable.

The next stage is to consider how many people are affected by the risk, and who
they are.
Volunteers may well be elderly and are likely to be retired. This means that they may
have existing health problems and may not be as strong as they once were.
Pregnant women or young people would also be at increased risk.


To come up with a level of risk, there are several factors which need to be
 The likely severity of injury if an accident were to happen, for example a slipped
disc might be an outcome of a manual handling injury
 The probability that an accident was going to occur
 The duration and frequency of exposure to the hazards

Existing control measures should be evaluated to assess their effectiveness. These

may be things such as manual handling training, supervision, mechanical aids etc.
The law should be considered to see if more needs to be done. The relevant law
here are the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regs (Risk Assessment) and
the Manual Handling Regs

The significant findings of the risk assessment should be recorded and information
on these findings should be provided to employees

The risk assessment should be reviewed when there is reason to believe that it is no
longer valid. This may be for a variety of reasons, e.g.:
 Lapse of time
 Enforcement action
 An accident has occurred

There you go - 20 marks to start you off with! Too many students didn’t use the 5
steps approach so didn’t think widely enough to get good marks. Lots also gave long
lists of how to control hazards, which was not asked for and so attracted no marks.

Well that’s about all the help I can give you, so it just remains to say:

Good Luck!
Nick Higginson MIOSH Dip2.OSH SpDipEM MIIRSM
RRC Tutor