Education and Training: Bachelor's degree
Salary: Median—$63,730 per year
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Safety engineers are responsible for keeping people free from danger, risk, or injury in the workplace. They develop safety programs to minimize losses due to injuries and property damage. They try to eliminate unsafe practices and conditions in industrial plants, mines, and stores as well as on construction sites and throughout transportation systems. Safety engineers work for a wide variety of industrial and commercial companies. Many work for insurance companies. Others are employed by government agencies or safety organizations. Still others teach in colleges and universities or work as independent consultants.
Safety engineers often have other titles, such as director of safety, safety manager, or safety coordinator. Sometimes technicians assist them. The duties of safety engineers vary depending on where they work. Engineers employed in large manufacturing plants often develop broad safety programs. They study the buildings, equipment, procedures, and records of accidents in their plant and point out safety hazards. They may suggest ways to fix unsafe structures or recommend changes in the layout of the plant. Sometimes they draw up plans for the regular maintenance of machinery or teach safe work habits to managers and workers.
Other safety engineers work with designers to make sure that their company's products are safe. They may be responsible for seeing that a new automobile model meets safety standards. Or they may check the design and production of children's toys.
Safety engineers who work for insurance companies usually provide consulting services to their clients. They are experts who can spot hazards and recommend ways to eliminate them. For example, they may review plans for a shopping center that is to be insured by their company and point out dangerous traffic patterns. Once the center is built, they inspect it and check that the elevators have been installed properly so that there will not be accidents. They also study maintenance procedures and may recommend that floors be cleaned when customers are not present. The shopping center owners may be able to lower their insurance rates by following the safety engineer's suggestions.
In the trucking industry, safety engineers review patterns of traffic accidents. They study routes, schedules, loads, and speeds to determine how these factors affect accidents. They also inspect trucks for safety hazards. Safety engineers in the mining industry must check to see that underground or open-pit mines meet the requirements set by state and federal laws. They also design equipment, such as lamps that are used underground. During mining emergencies they may be in charge of rescue teams.
Education and Training Requirements
You generally need a bachelor's degree in science or engineering to become a safety engineer. It usually takes a minimum of four years to get this formal training. Some employers prefer to hire graduates with special degrees in safety management or occupational safety and health. Others look for people who have a master's degree or some work experience in a related field. In some cases graduates of two-year college programs can become safety engineers after some years of experience as technicians in this field. Undergraduate courses should include behavioral, medical, and social sciences. A list of colleges offering degrees in occupational safety and health is available from the American Society of Safety Engineers. Many companies provide additional training for their employees. Safety engineers continue to study new developments in their field throughout their careers.
In some cases engineers need to be licensed by the state in which they work. They generally need a degree from an approved engineering college, about four years of work experience as an engineer, and a passing grade on a state examination before being licensed as professional engineers.
Getting the Job
Your college placement office and department notice boards may be able to help you find a job in safety engineering. You can also apply directly to places that hire safety engineers. Your state employment agency may have job information. Other good sources for job leads are the classifieds in trade and professional journals, newspapers, and Internet job banks.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Advancement depends on education, experience, and the industry. In large manufacturing companies, for example, safety engineers can become managers in charge of safety for a large department, an entire plant, or a group of plants. In an insurance company, safety engineers can advance to department head, branch manager, and eventually executive. Some start their own consulting firms.
Health and safety engineers, except mining safety engineers and inspectors, are projected to experience average employment growth through 2014. Although there is a growing concern for the safety of workers and consumers, there has also been a demand for less government intervention and regulation. Much of the employment growth is expected to be in private industrial firms. This growth will be due to the continuing self-enforcement of government requirements, the rising costs of insurance, and the insistence of unions. Insurance companies should also employ more safety engineers. The best jobs will go to graduates of college programs that are related to safety.
Safety engineers spend much of their time reviewing and inspecting on-site safety conditions and investigating accidents. They also have an office in which they analyze data and write reports. They may have to do some traveling to worksites, conferences, and seminars. Safety engineers generally work forty hours per week. In many cases, longer hours are necessary. Manufacturing plants may require some shift work. Sometimes safety engineers have to answer unexpected emergency calls. There may be some danger involved in their work, but safety precautions minimize this danger.
Safety engineers often meet with clients, workers, and managers. They must be able to convince these people of the need for safety measures. In addition to knowledge of the engineering problems involved in keeping work areas and other public places free from hazards, safety engineers need to have a good knowledge of management methods, safety laws, and industrial psychology. They should be good at solving problems.
Where to Go for More Information
National Safety Council
1121 Spring Lake Dr.
Itasca, IL 60143-3201
Earnings and Benefits
Salaries vary depending on the safety engineer's experience and education as well as the location and the kind of job. In 2004 the median annual income of safety engineers was $63,730. Benefits include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans.