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Occupational Health and Safety Specialists

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Occupational Health and Safety Specialists Overview

Many occupational health and safety specialists work for local government agencies and the Federal State that enforce rules on health, safety, and the environment. Most jobs require a bachelor’s degree in occupational health, safety or a closely related field while some employers require an advanced degree. Occupational health and safety specialists who are experienced in more than one health and safety specialty will have the best job opportunities.

Nature of the Work for Occupational Health and Safety Specialists

Occupational Health and Safety Specialists

The work of an occupational health and safety specialist involves helping prevent harm to property, workers, the general public, or the environment. Also known as safety and health professionals or occupational health and safety inspectors, many may work to ensure spaces are designed safely, inspect machines or test the air quality. Occupational health and safety specialists may also work to increase worker productivity by lowering workers’ compensation payments, preventing government fines or lowering insurance premiums. Occupational health and safety specialists may work with occupational health and safety technicians to ensure safety in the workplace. Those working for governments may also perform safety inspections or impose fines.

The work of an occupational health and safety specialist can also include designing programs to prevent or eliminate disease and injury or analyzing work environments. Occupational health and safety specialists can help increase worker productivity by making equipment more ergonomic by helping workers with body positions or decreasing fatigue. Occupational health and safety specialists may also check for chemical, physical or biological hazards or perform inspections and inform organizations when certain areas are not complying with employer policies or State and Federal laws. Some occupational health and safety specialists may also advise management on how costly or effective certain health and safety programs are while some even provide training on any new policies or regulations in the workplace.

Some occupational health and safety specialists will use information sources and historical data to predict hazards. Combining such methods with their own knowledge can help them evaluate products, facilities, and equipment.

Occupational health and safety specialists can also propose a new program or practice to management as well as evaluate the severity or probability of accidents that can occur. Many occupational health and safety specialists also conduct safety training on how to recognize hazards to ensure a safe work environment.

When an injury or illness takes place, occupational health and safety specialists will study the cause of the illness or injury and recommend corrective action. Those returning to work after an accident or injury can also receive help from an occupational health and safety specialist.

Those working for insurance companies to inspect facilities and help implement improvements are called loss prevention specialists.

The role of an occupational health and safety specialist may also involve communicating with management about health and safety programs. They can monitor safety measurements, write reports such as accident reports, or use Occupational Safety and Health Administration recordkeeping forms to enter information. Occupational health and safety specialists may also prepare documents used in legal proceedings as well as develop safety programs for those who are experts in a specific area.

The responsibilities and tasks of occupational health and safety specialists depend on the industry and workplace in which they work. For example, environmental protection officers may coordinate or evaluate how hazardous materials affect the environment while industrial hygienists can examine the workplace for health hazards.

Occupational health and safety specialists can work in a variety of locations, such as an office, factory or mine. Travel and fieldwork can also be required.

The typical workweek for an occupational health and safety specialist is usually 40 hours while some may work overtime or irregular hours.

Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Occupational Health and Safety Specialists

Many employers require a bachelor’s degree in occupational health, safety or another closely related field such as engineering, biology, or chemistry. Occupational health and safety specialists are trained in inspection procedures and applicable laws with a combination of on-the-job training as well as classroom work.

Some occupational health and safety specialists are required to obtain a master's degree in industrial hygiene, health physics or another closely related subject, depending on the employer.

Those looking to become occupational health and safety technicians should complete high school courses in English, chemistry, biology, physics and mathematics. Courses completed in college could be hazardous material management and control, risk communications or radiation science.

Most occupational health and safety specialists looking to become credentialed must attend a nationally accredited or regional educational institution. Though credentialing is voluntary, it is available through organizations such as the American Board of Health Physicists, the American Board of Industrial Hygiene or the Board of Certified Safety Professionals. Varying requirements in education and experience are necessary in order to become credentialed. Once occupational health and safety specialists become certified, they are usually required to complete periodic continuing education.

Those who can communicate well, are responsible and enjoy detailed work will succeed as occupational health and safety specialists.

Occupational health and safety specialists working for the Federal Government can advance to a specified full-performance level job. Advancement for those working in supervisory positions will depend on the individual’s merit and the needs of the agency.

Occupational health and safety specialists with a broad level of experience, education, and are well versed in business functions will have the best job opportunities available to them. Many occupational health and safety specialists choose to join professional membership societies where courses, conferences, and journals are offered to help keep up with current professional developments.

Those looking to move up to leadership or senior roles are usually required to obtain an advanced degree as well as have substantial work experience.

Top 10 Most Popular Occupational Health and Industrial Hygiene Schools

1. Community College of the Air Force (Montgomery, Alabama)
2. Montana Tech of the University of Montana (Butte, Montana)
3. East Carolina University (Greenville, North Carolina)
4. Illinois State University (Normal, Illinois)
5. University of Massachusetts, Lowell (Lowell, Massachusetts)
6. The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (Houston, Texas)
7. University of Puerto Rico, Medical Sciences Campus (San Juan, Puerto Rico)
8. Ohio University, Athens (Athens, Ohio)
9. North Carolina A & T State University (Greensboro, North Carolina)
10. Wayne State University (Detroit, Michigan)

See All Occupational Health and Industrial Hygiene Schools

Employment and Job Outlook for Occupational Health and Safety Specialists

Number of People in Profession

51,850

Changing Employment (2008-2018)

Employment is projected to grow about as fast as average (increase 7 - 13%).

Many occupational health and safety specialists work for private companies, the Federal Government, public and private hospitals, educational services, and manufacturing firms as well as other companies and sectors.

The work of an occupational health and safety specialist will be needed to deal with technological advances in safety equipment, changing regulations, increasing public expectations and threats. Occupational health and safety specialists who specialize in loss prevention may also have more job opportunities.

Off shoring operations and those choosing to work from home can affect the job growth in this field. In contrast, job openings for occupational health and safety specialists will be available from those who retire or leave the occupation.

Economic fluctuations tend to affect occupational health and safety specialists working in the private sector while those working for the Federal, State, or local government tend to feel a greater sense of job security.

Earnings and Salary for Occupational Health and Safety Specialists

Median annual wages of occupational health and safety specialists are $63,230. The middle 50 percent earn between $48,490 and $78,700. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $37,910, and the highest 10 percent earn more than $93,210.

Annual Salary for Occupational Health and Safety Specialists

On average, Occupational Health and Safety Specialists earn $63,230 per year.

10% 25% 75% 90% $37,910/yr $48,490/yr $78,700/yr $93,210/yr

Hourly Wage for Occupational Health and Safety Specialists

On average, Occupational Health and Safety Specialists earn $30.40 per hour.

10% 25% 75% 90% $18.23 $23.31 $37.84 $44.81

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook