Occupational Health and Safety Specialist
|Activities||Review, evaluate, and analyze work environments and design programs and procedures to control, eliminate, and prevent disease or injury caused by chemical, physical, and biological agents or ergonomic factors. May conduct inspections and enforce adherence to laws and regulations governing the health and safety of individuals. May be employed in the public or private sector.|
|Outlook||Average job growth|
|Median Income||$62,300 per year in 2008|
|Work Context & Conditions||Usually work with many different people in a variety of environments. Their jobs often involve considerable fieldwork, and some travel frequently. Many work long and often irregular hours.|
|Minimum Education Requirements||Bachelor's Degree|
|Skills||Critical Thinking, Active Listening, Mathematics, Reading Comprehension, Speaking, Science|
|Abilities||Oral Expression, Number Facility, Problem Sensitivity, Written Comprehension, Inductive Reasoning, Written Expression, Oral Comprehension|
|Job Category||Architecture & Engineering|
|Job Description||Occupational health and safety specialists, also known as safety and health practitioners or occupational health and safety inspectors, help prevent harm to workers, property, the environment, and the general public. They promote occupational health and safety within organizations in many ways, such as by advising management on how to increase worker productivity through raising morale and reducing absenteeism, turnover, and equipment downtime while securing savings on insurance premiums, workers’ compensation benefits, and litigation expenses. |
Occupational health and safety specialists analyze work environments and design programs to control, eliminate, and prevent disease or injury caused by chemical, physical, radiological, and biological agents or ergonomic factors that involve the impact of equipment design on a worker’s comfort or fatigue. They may conduct inspections and inform the management of a business which areas may not be in compliance with State and Federal laws or employer policies, in order to gain their support for addressing these areas. They advise management on the cost and effectiveness of safety and health programs.
The specific responsibilities of occupational health and safety specialists vary by industry, workplace, and types of hazards affecting employees. In most settings, they initially focus on identifying hazardous conditions and practices. Sometimes they develop methods to predict hazards from experience, historical data, workplace analysis, and other information sources. Then they identify potential hazards in systems, equipment, products, facilities, or processes planned for use in the future. For example, they might uncover patterns in injury data that implicate a specific cause such as system failure, human error, incomplete or faulty decision making, or a weakness in existing policies or practices. After reviewing the causes or effects of hazards, they evaluate the probability and severity of accidents or exposures to hazardous materials that may result. Then they identify where controls need to be implemented to reduce or eliminate hazards and advise if a new program or practice is required. As necessary, they conduct training sessions for management, supervisors, and workers on health and safety practices and regulations to promote an understanding of a new or existing process. After implementation, they may monitor and evaluate the program’s progress, making additional suggestions when needed.
To ensure the machinery and equipment meet appropriate safety regulations, occupational health and safety specialists may examine and test machinery and equipment, such as lifting devices, machine guards, or scaffolding. They may check that personal protective equipment, such as masks, respirators, protective eyewear, or hard hats, is being used in workplaces according to regulations. They also check that hazardous materials are stored correctly. They test and identify work areas for potential accident and health hazards, such as toxic vapors, mold, mildew, and explosive gas-air mixtures, and help implement appropriate control measures, such as adjustments to ventilation systems. Their survey of the workplace might involve talking with workers and observing their work, as well as inspecting elements in their work environment, such as lighting, tools, and equipment.
To measure and control hazardous substances, such as the noise or radiation levels, occupational health and safety specialists prepare and calibrate scientific equipment. They must properly collect and handle samples of dust, gases, vapors, and other potentially toxic materials to ensure personal safety and accurate test results.
If an injury or illness occurs, occupational health and safety specialists help investigate unsafe working conditions, study possible causes, and recommend remedial action. Some occupational health and safety specialists and technicians assist with the rehabilitation of workers after accidents and injuries, and make sure they return to work successfully.
Frequent communication with management may be necessary to report on the status of occupational health and safety programs. Consultation with engineers or physicians also may be required.
Occupational health and safety specialists prepare reports including accident reports, Occupational Safety and Health Administration record-keeping forms, observations, analysis of contaminants, and recommendations for control and correction of hazards. They may prepare documents to be used in legal proceedings and give testimony in court proceedings. Those who develop expertise in certain areas may develop occupational health and safety systems, including policies, procedures, and manuals.
Specialists that concentrate in particular areas include environmental protection officers, ergonomists, health physicists, industrial hygienists, and mine examiners. Environmental protection officers evaluate and coordinate programs that impact the environment, such as the storage and handling of hazardous waste or monitoring the cleanup of contaminated soil or water. Ergonomists help ensure that the work environment allows employees to maximize their comfort, safety, and productivity. Health physicists help protect people and the environment from hazardous radiation exposure by monitoring the manufacture, handling, and disposal of radioactive material. Industrial hygienists examine the workplace for health hazards, such as worker exposure to lead, asbestos, pesticides, or communicable diseases. Mine examiners are technicians who inspect mines for proper air flow and health hazards such as the buildup of methane or other noxious gases.
|Working Conditions||Occupational health and safety specialists and technicians work with many different people in a variety of environments. Their jobs often involve considerable fieldwork, and some travel frequently. Many occupational health and safety specialists and technicians work long and often irregular hours.|
Occupational health and safety specialists and technicians may be exposed to many of the same physically strenuous conditions and hazards as industrial employees, and the work may be performed in unpleasant, stressful, and dangerous working conditions. They may find themselves in an adversarial role if the management of an organization disagrees with the recommendations for ensuring a safe working environment.
|Salary Range||Median annual earnings of occupational health and safety specialists were $62,300 in 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $47,500 and $77,900. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $35,900, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $93,600. |
Most occupational health and safety specialists and technicians work in large private firms or for Federal, State, and local governments, most of which generally offer more generous benefits than smaller firms.
|Education Required||All occupational health and safety specialists and technicians are trained in the applicable laws or inspection procedures through some combination of classroom and on-the-job training. Awards and degrees in programs related to occupational safety and health include 1-year certificates, associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and graduate degrees. Many employers, including the Federal Government, require a bachelor’s degree in occupational health, safety, or a related field, such as engineering, biology, or chemistry, for some specialist positions. Many industrial hygiene programs result in a master’s degree. Experience as an occupational health and safety professional is also a prerequisite for many positions. Advancement to senior specialist positions is likely to require an advanced degree and substantial experience in several areas of practice.|
Federal government occupational health and safety specialists whose job performance is satisfactory advance through their career ladder to a specified full-performance level. For positions above this level, usually supervisory positions, advancement is competitive and based on agency needs and individual merit. Advancement opportunities in state and local governments and the private sector are often similar to those in the federal government.
With additional experience or education, promotion to a managerial position is possible. Research or related teaching positions at the college level require advanced education.
|Recommended High School Courses||Biology, Mathematics, English, Chemistry, Physics|
|Postsecondary Instructional Programs||Law, Government and Jurisprudence, Public Safety and Security, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Medicine and Dentistry, Education and Training, English Language|
|Certification and Licensing||Although voluntary, many employers encourage certification. Credentialing is available through several organizations depending on the specialists’ field of work. Organizations credentialing health and safety professionals include the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP) and the American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH). |
The BCSP offers the Certified Safety Professional (CSP) credential, while the ABIH offers the Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) and Certified Associate Industrial Hygienist (CAIH) credentials. Also, the Council on Certification of Health, Environmental, and Safety Technologists, a joint effort between the BCSP and ABIH, awards the Occupational Health and Safety Technologist (OHST) and Construction Health and Safety Technician (CHST) credentials.
Requirements for the OHST and CHST credentials are less stringent than those for the CSP, CIH, or CAIH credentials. Once education and experience requirements have been met, certification may be obtained through an examination. Continuing education is required for recertification.
Skills, Abilities, & Interests
|Social||Involves working and communicating with, helping, and teaching people. |
|Company Policies and Practices||Treated fairly by the company.|
|Ability Utilization||Make use of individual abilities.|
|Autonomy||Plan work with little supervision.|
|Responsibility||Make decisions on your own.|
|Critical Thinking||Use logic and analysis to identify the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches.|
|Active Listening||Listen to what other people are saying and ask questions as appropriate.|
|Mathematics||Use math to solve problems.|
|Reading Comprehension||Understand written sentences and paragraphs in work-related documents.|
|Speaking||Talk to others to effectively convey information.|
|Science||Use scientific methods to solve problems.|
|Oral Expression||Able to convey information and ideas through speech in ways that others will understand.|
|Number Facility||Able to add, subtract, multiply, and divide quickly and correctly.|
|Problem Sensitivity||Able to tell when something is wrong or likely to go wrong. This doesn't involve solving the problem, just recognizing that there is a problem.|
|Written Comprehension||Able to read and understand information and ideas presented in writing.|
|Inductive Reasoning||Able to combine separate pieces of information, or specific answers to problems, to form general rules or conclusions. This includes coming up with a logical explanation for why seemingly unrelated events occur together.|
|Written Expression||Able to communicate information and ideas in writing so others will understand.|
|Oral Comprehension||Able to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.|
|Related Jobs||Technician, Forensic Science|
|Job Outlook||Occupational health and safety specialists held about 55,800 jobs in 2008. While the majority of jobs were spread throughout the private sector, about 41 percent of specialists worked for Federal, state and local government agencies. Other occupational health and safety specialists were employed in manufacturing firms; private general medical and surgical hospitals; management, scientific, and technical consulting services; management of companies and enterprises; support activities for mining; research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences; private colleges, universities, and professional schools; and electric power generation, transmission, and distribution. Some were self-employed.|
Within the federal government, most jobs are as Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) inspectors, who enforce U.S. Department of Labor regulations that ensure adequate safety principles, practices, and techniques are applied in workplaces. Employers may be fined for violations of OSHA standards. Within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, occupational health and safety specialists working for the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) provide private companies with an avenue to evaluate the health and safety of their employees without the risk of being fined. Most large government agencies also employ occupational health and safety specialists and technicians who work to protect agency employees.
Most private companies either employ their own safety personnel or contract safety professionals to ensure OSHA compliance, as needed.
Employment of occupational health and safety specialists is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2018, reflecting a balance of continuing public demand for a safe and healthy work environment against the desire for smaller government and fewer regulations. Additional job openings will arise from the need to replace those who transfer to other occupations, retire, or leave for other reasons. In private industry, employment growth will reflect industry growth and the continuing self-enforcement of government and company regulations and policies.
Employment of occupational health and safety specialists and technicians in the private sector is somewhat affected by general economic fluctuations. Federal, State, and local governments, which employ about 2 out of 5 of all specialists and technicians, provide considerable job security; workers are less likely to be affected by changes in the economy.
|More Information||Council on Certification of Health, Environmental, and Safety Technologists, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Office of Communication, American Society of Safety Engineers, American Board of Industrial Hygiene, American Industrial Hygiene Association, Board of Certified Safety Professionals|
|References||Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, Occupational Health and Safety Specialists and Technicians, on the Internet at |
O*NET OnLine, on the Internet at