Occupational Health and Safety Specialist
Occupational Health and Safety Specialist
Education and Training: College
Salary: Median—$51,570 per year
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Also known as occupational health and safety inspectors, occupational health and safety specialists promote health and safety within a work environment. They analyze workplaces and design initiatives to control, eliminate, and prevent disease caused by chemical, physical, radiological, or biological agents. In addition, they may inspect workplaces to investigate whether they are in compliance with state and federal laws or employer policies and conduct analyses on the effectiveness of safety and health programs.
Occupational health and safety specialists specialize in certain areas. For example, environmental protection officers assess programs that impact the environment, such as the storage and handling of hazardous waste. Health physicists monitor the manufacture, handling, and disposal of radioactive material. Industrial hygienists test the workplace for health hazards such as asbestos, pesticides, or communicable diseases.
Although there are a number of specialties within this field, every one of them is concerned with identifying hazardous conditions that affect workers, property, the environment, and the general public. A thorough survey is conducted in the workplace to test equipment, pollutants, potential accident and health hazards, and observe workers and equipment. Once the hazard is determined, they focus on ways to eliminate it. They also help companies develop new safety practices, conduct training sessions for management, and monitor and assess the program's progress.
Occupational health and safety specialists are called in after workplace accidents or illness to investigate the cause. In these cases they survey working conditions, determine the causes, and recommend action that will prevent further accidents or illness. They may also assist with the rehabilitation of workers.
Another aspect of the job is preparing accident reports, workplace analyses, Occupational Safety and Health Administration forms, and initiatives for control and correction of hazardous materials. Specialists may also give testimony in court and write policies, procedures, and manuals regarding occupational health and safety systems.
Education and Training Requirements
Occupational health and safety specialists must have a bachelor's degree in occupational health, safety, or a related field. Experience as an occupation health and safety professional is also a prerequisite for many jobs. Also, on-the-job training is vital, allowing specialists training in inspection procedures and applicable laws.
The Board of Certified Safety Professionals and American Board of Industrial Hygiene offers certification and credentials, as does the Council on Certification of Health, Environmental, and Safety Technologists, which offers credentials for the specialties of Construction Health and Safety Technician and the Occupational Health and Safety Technologist. An examination is required for certification.
Getting the Job
College placement offices can provide information on job opportunities in this field. For many positions, experience as an occupational health and safety professional is a prerequisite. Because two out of five occupational health and safety specialists work for the federal government, candidates can apply directly to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Occupational health and safety specialists can advance to supervisory positions or take a research or teaching position. Competition is keen, however, and advancement is usually based on experience and individual merit.
The job market for this profession is growing about as fast as the average through 2014. Although concerns about a safe and healthy work environment create a demand for these skills, the profession is also affected by economic fluctuations and political considerations, such as the movement toward smaller government and fewer regulations.
Occupational health and safety specialists work with many different people in a variety of environments. They work long and irregular hours and may have to travel frequently. Because much of their job involves being in the field, they may be exposed to the same dangers and hazards as workers on the job.
The nature of the job requires that an occupational health and safety specialist must be in frequent communication with the management. If management opposes the findings or recommendations of an occupational health and safety specialist, the relationship could become adversarial, which may induce stress as well as an unpleasant working environment.
Earnings and Benefits
The median annual salary of occupational health and safety specialists is $51,570. An experienced worker can make more than $79,530 per year. For those working in state government, the median annual salary is $44,400.
Where to Go for More Information
Occupational Safety and Health Association
200 Constitution Ave.
Washington, DC 20210
National Environmental Health Association
720 S. Colorado Blvd., Ste. 970-S
Denver, CO 80246-1925
Association of American Geographers
1710 16th St., NW
Washington, DC 20009-3198
The majority of occupational health and safety specialists work in large private firms or for federal, state, or local governments, which offer generous benefits.