Education and Training: Bachelor's degree
Salary: Median—$69,103 per year
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Industrial hygienists are occupational health and safety specialists concerned with the maintenance of good health among industrial workers. They attempt to prevent occupational diseases among employees and minimize environmental health hazards in the workplace. They are trained to anticipate, recognize, evaluate, and work to alleviate adverse working conditions that may cause illness or impair the health of workers. Such conditions may include excessive noise or the presence of dust, vapors, chemicals, and other potentially hazardous materials common to some industrial settings. Industrial hygienists frequently collect air or water samples and monitor noise levels to determine if any harmful conditions exist. They may also conduct radiological studies to measure radioactivity levels at job sites. The growth of high-technology and service industries has led to stress-related health problems, which industrial hygienists also examine.
Industrial hygienists are employed by large industrial manufacturers, insurance companies, public health agencies, and consulting firms. Some spend most of their time in laboratories, where they analyze air samples, determine the effects of exposure to certain chemicals, or run tests on the reliability of health equipment, such as pacemakers and respirators. These professionals are sometimes called industrial hygiene chemists.
Other hygienists work on-site, where they confer with plant management, labor organizations, government officials, and in some cases environmental groups to establish health and safety programs that satisfy the different needs of all these groups. Industrial hygienists who specialize in pollution problems may help devise systems for the safe storage or disposal of toxic wastes from an industrial plant. Those with backgrounds in engineering may conduct detailed plant surveys to locate and correct work hazards. These professionals are called industrial hygiene engineers.
Industrial hygienists keep companies and labor groups informed of federal, state, and local health requirements. They prepare hazard communication sheets and interactive computer software to ensure that workers understand the dangers of the chemicals and equipment they use. Industrial hygienists are sometimes called on to testify at governmental hearings on product safety, working conditions, and environmental pollution. They also may be asked to represent their employers in workers' compensation hearings.
Education and Training Requirements
High school students interested in careers in industrial hygiene should take biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics. You generally need at least a bachelor's degree in science or engineering to become an industrial hygienist. Many employers prefer to hire applicants who have graduate-level training. Some colleges and universities offer undergraduate and graduate programs in industrial hygiene. It usually takes a minimum of four years to earn a bachelor's degree and one or two additional years of study to earn a master's degree. A good background in physical or biological sciences is a sound base for entry into this career. Engineers, chemists, physicians, nurses, toxicologists, and statisticians may move from these fields into positions in industrial hygiene.
The American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH) grants certification to practicing hygienists who have a bachelor's degree in chemistry; physics; chemical, mechanical, or sanitary engineering; medicine; or biology. They also must have passed two ABIH examinations: a core examination and either a comprehensive or a chemical practice examination. The core examination covers all of the basic principles and facts that industrial hygienists should know, and the comprehensive examination covers them in greater depth. The chemical practice exam covers subjects such as chemical reactions and analytical procedures and methods used for monitoring the environment. A certified industrial hygienist usually earns considerably more than one who is not certified.
Getting the Job
Your professors or the placement office at your college or university can give you information about getting a job. Work-study programs offered in college are good springboards for later jobs. Openings for hygienists are often listed in professional journals, newspaper classifieds, and Internet job banks. The annual conference of the American Industrial Hygiene Association has an employment service for job seekers. You can also apply directly to large corporations, insurance companies, consulting firms, and public health agencies.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Advancement usually depends on the education and experience of the industrial hygienist. In the insurance industry, industrial hygienists can be promoted to the position of department manager in a branch office or to an executive position in the home office. In industrial firms, industrial hygienists can advance to safety and health managerial positions for one or several plants. Industrial hygienists may also become private consultants. Transferring from governmental employment to private industry may also offer promotional opportunities.
Industrial hygienists are occupational health and safety specialists, and employment of occupational health and safety specialists is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2014. This reflects a balance of continuing public demand for a safe and healthy work environment against the desire for smaller government and fewer regulations. The best opportunities will be for graduates of specialized industrial hygiene programs.
Industrial hygienists generally spend part of their time at worksites, which may be noisy. They also spend some of their time in offices or laboratories. Some may travel a great deal. For example, industrial hygienists who work for an insurance company may spend about half the time away from the home office while they are inspecting worksites. Most industrial hygienists work thirty-five to forty hours a week during regular business hours. However, industrial hygienists employed in factories that operate continuously may work all or part of a night shift when problems require their services.
Where to Go for More Information
American Board of Industrial Hygiene
6015 West St. Joseph, Ste. 102
Lansing, MI 48917-3980
American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists
1330 Kemper Meadow Dr.
Cincinnati, OH 45240
American Industrial Hygiene Association
2700 Prosperity Avenue, Ste. 250
Fairfax, VA 22031
Industrial hygienists must have the ability to establish and maintain good working relationships with both management and workers. In many cases, hygienists are the link between these groups in instituting safe working conditions. They must be able to think and act quickly and be good at solving problems. Good communication skills are essential.
Earnings and Benefits
Salaries for industrial hygienists vary depending on their experience and education as well as the location and kind of job. In 2006 the median annual income of industrial hygienists with at least four years of experience was $69,103.