How to Become an Occupational Health and Safety Specialist
You’ve always been concerned about the health and well-being of others, and you hope to translate this passion into a career. That’s why you’ve been looking into a job as an occupational health and safety specialist.
However, you aren’t sure what the job entails. What will your responsibilities be? What will your day-to-day look like? And what salary should you expect?
Learning about the role of an occupational health and safety specialist will help you determine whether or not this is the right career for you.
What Is an Occupational Health and Safety Specialist?
An occupational health and safety specialist is someone who analyzes and collects data on work environments and procedures to ensure workplace safety for employees. They work in different settings including factories, offices, schools and warehouses.
What Does an Occupational Health and Safety Specialist Do?
Occupational health and safety specialists have a variety of responsibilities. They evaluate whether work environments, procedures and equipment comply with regulations under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and other regulatory government agencies.
They inspect workplaces, looking for hazards like broken and faulty equipment, unstable scaffolding and potential slip-and-fall liabilities. If an accident occurs in a workplace, an occupational health and safety specialist may be called in to determine why the accident occurred. They would then write a detailed report on the incident.
They also do preventive work by training employees on best practices to ensure a safe work environment.
Essential Skills for Occupational Health and Safety Specialists
Occupational health and safety specialists need to possess many skills. Some of these qualities, as noted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), include:
- Physical stamina: They must be able to travel and spend time on their feet. It’s common for them to stand for long periods, travel and sometimes work in physically demanding settings, like mines and tunnels.
- Communication: Communication skills are critical to effectively talk with managers and employees about workplace safety hazards and prevention techniques.
- Tech-savvy: Since occupational health and safety specialists work with technology, you must be tech-savvy and learn to use complex testing equipment on the job and document your findings using a computer.
- Attention to detail: Since you have to search for problems and potential hazards in the workplace, a good eye for detail is essential. A lack of attention to detail could cause major issues, including endangering the lives of employees.
- Problem-solving: Since these professionals develop plans and procedures to fix and improve workplace safety, problem-solving is key. You’ll need to apply knowledge of workplace processes and procedures to develop solutions.
Day in the Life of an Occupational Health and Safety Specialist
Here is what a day in the life of an occupational health and safety specialist may look like.
Kate, an occupational health and safety specialist, starts work at 9 a.m. by reviewing her schedule, which includes inspecting a factory.
By 10 a.m., Kate visits the factory. She greets the manager and starts her inspection. She pulls out her checklist and makes her way through the factory, analyzing equipment and talking to employees. She thoroughly reviews the factory, checking for slip-and-fall hazards, loose objects or anything that could potentially harm workers.
Kate finishes the inspection, says goodbye to the manager and returns to her office. She types up her report, concluding there is some faulty equipment that needs to be addressed. She also develops plans to ensure the equipment is fixed or replaced and to train the employees on spotting issues before they get out of hand.
How to Become an Occupational Health and Safety Specialist
Learn about some common steps to becoming an occupational health and safety specialist, including possible degree and certification requirements.
- Step 1: Earn a bachelor’s degree in the required field
- Step 2: Gain work experience in occupational health
- Step 3: Consider a master’s degree
- Step 4: Earn certifications
- Step 5: Work as an occupational health and safety specialist
Step 1: Earn a bachelor’s degree in the required field
Typically, you need a bachelor’s degree in occupational health and safety or in a relevant or related technical field. Your coursework may include classes on safety and health standards, industrial hygiene, waste management, accident prevention, ergonomics and occupational safety and hazardous materials.
Step 2: Gain work experience in occupational health
Once you have your bachelor’s degree, you should aim to gain on-the-job experience. Since factories are different from offices, and mines are not the same as schools, you’ll need to choose an environment you’d like to work in so you can learn the regulations for that specific field. You may need up to a year of training to be fully versed in occupational health and safety for your specific environment.
Step 3: Consider a master’s degree
A master’s degree in occupational health, or a Master of Public Health with an occupational health concentration could better position you for career success. According to the BLS, some health and safety positions require a master’s degree in a field like industrial hygiene, health physics or a related field. There are full-time, part-time and online programs in occupational health and safety so you can complete your degree in a way that works best with your schedule and lifestyle. Online MPH programs in occupational health are available as well.
Step 4: Earn certifications
Some roles may require or encourage certification. However, certificates are typically voluntary. Maintaining your certifications will likely require continuing education. The Board of Certified Safety Professionals and the American Board of Industrial Hygiene provide relevant professional certifications, the BLS notes.
Step 5: Work as an occupational health and safety specialist
A big part of your education is on-the-job training. When you work as an occupational health and safety specialist, you’ll learn the ins and outs of regulations. As you progress in your career, you should become better at spotting issues in the workplace, communicating with employees and providing prevention training.
Career Outlook and Salary Expectations
The job outlook for occupational health and safety specialists looks good. According to the BLS, employment of these professionals is expected to grow 7% from 2020 to 2030, as fast as the average across all occupations. The 7% growth equates to 8,800 jobs.
The median pay for occupational health and safety specialists was $76,340 in 2020, the BLS reports. The highest-earning 10% of workers made more than $112,850.
Work Settings for Occupational Health and Safety Specialists
Occupational health and safety specialists work in offices and factories. They may also inspect tunnels, mines, construction sites, healthcare institutions and manufacturing facilities.
Occupational safety and health is an excellent career if you have the skills for the job and a desire to make the working world a better place. With this position, you protect workers and ensure they have a safe work environment to come to each day.
Information last updated September 2021
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