Job Profile: Occupational Health and Safety Specialist

Dangerous work conditions can result in employees suffering illness, injury, and even death. In 2014, there were nearly 3 million non-fatal occupational injuries reported in the private sector. Nearly 6,000 workers die from tragic job-related accidents every year. Reading these harrowing statistics from OSHA proves the importance of occupational health and safety specialists. These highly trained healthcare experts carefully examine work environments to ensure compliance to strict industry regulations. Occupational health and safety specialists strive to protect employee well-being by identifying and removing threats that could spark trouble. There are two major types of occupational health and safety specialists. First, ergonomists coordinate the design of industrial facilities and offices to maximize workers' safety. Industrial hygienists test workplaces for dangerous toxins like lead and asbestos that could trigger health hazards if exposed.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 70,200 occupational health and safety specialists employed in the United States earn an average yearly wage of $71,790, or $34.51 per hour. Occupational health and safety jobs with the federal government earn slightly more at $78,760, but the highest paid are in oil and gas extraction with mean annual salaries of $96,070.

Beginning Salary

Occupational health and safety specialists with less than five years of experience typically land in the bottom quartile of earnings with yearly income under $53,890. However, occupational health and safety specialists can eventually climb to six-figure salaries above $102,980 per year. Those reaching the role of occupational health and safety director can make $163,991.

Key Responsibilities

The primary responsibility placed on occupational health and safety specialists' shoulders is investigating how physical work conditions could be improved for worker welfare. Specialists may protect employees by checking for proper ventilation, functioning equipment, and bright lighting. Some may also protect the public by inspecting industrial environments for chemical or radiological hazards. Occupational health and safety specialists use government and industry standards to determine apt corporate practices. If accidents occur, they could be called to investigate the cause and implement preventative measures. Organizing employee safety workshops could be part of their job description. Occupational health and safety specialists wear many hard hats in keeping organizations functioning as safely as possible.

Necessary Skills

Becoming an occupational health and safety specialist will require extensive technical skills to operate complex tools that collect dust, vapors, or chemicals for testing. Analytical ability is crucial for crunching data into applicable information on the workplace's quality. Being a skilled communicator with good interpersonal skills is important to aptly convey safety instructions. Occupational health and safety specialists should be detail-oriented to check every operational facet for regulation compliance. Critical thinking and problem-solving skills will help occupational health and safety specialists develop corrections that enhance the company's procedures. Physical endurance is also important because standing, walking, and wedging into tight crawlspaces is frequent.

Degree and Education Requirements

Pursuing your vocational calling to become an occupational health and safety specialist will require a bachelor's degree at minimum. Most have attended accredited, four-year colleges to study occupational health, public health, biology, engineering, chemistry, or related fields. In addition to the general education core, take electives like hazardous waste management and radiation science for good career specialization. Government agencies are increasingly preferring occupational health and safety specialists with a graduate degree. Earning a Master of Public Health (MPH) in Occupational Health and Safety is suggested. Master of Science degrees in Industrial Hygiene, Safety Management, and Occupational Safety would also be suitable.

Pros and Cons of the Position

Going down the career path to occupational health and safety specialist will deliver both advantages and drawbacks. Let's begin on the positive side where occupational health and safety specialists have the intrinsic reward of knowing they're keeping people safe. This highly respected profession offers comfortable yearly salaries with six-figure growth potential. There are opportunities for occupational health and safety specialists to concentrate in areas like environmental health, industrial hygiene, and fire protection. Certified specialists report above-average job satisfaction surpassing 90 percent. On the other hand, occupational health and safety positions are tough to find because job growth remains sluggish. Spending long intervals on your feet can become tiresome and lead to injury. Occupational health and safety specialists can be exposed to dangers within the workplaces they're testing. Education requirements will involve investing significantly in higher education. Long, irregular shifts beyond 40-hour weeks could be required.

Getting Started

Besides classroom instruction, young occupational health and safety specialists need to gain hands-on experience in industrial settings. Bachelor's students are encouraged to complete an internship or cooperative program for supervised practice. Significant on-the-job training is necessary to learn the intensive inspection procedures required by law. Most employers prefer hiring occupational health and safety specialists with at least five years of experience. You can fulfill this by working as a building inspector, safety engineer, or occupational health and safety technician. Consider attending graduate school part-time or online while working to bolster your resume. Professional certification will also impress prospective employers. The Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP) offers several credentials. For example, you can become an Occupational Health and Safety Technologist (OHST) by passing a certification exam.

Future Outlook

Various industries will have demand for occupational health and safety specialists to continue double checking that employers follow new, tighter regulations. Technological advances are making it crucial for specialists to ensure machinery won't malfunction and cause physical harm to workers. Rising insurance costs will also make workplace safety training a bigger priority for companies seeking premium deductions. Nonetheless, employment of occupational health and safety specialists will only grow by 4 percent through 2024, thus creating 2,800 jobs nationally. Certified professionals holding master's degrees have the most promising prospects. Open positions could be found with local governments, consulting firms, hospitals, manufacturers, gas extraction companies, and management services.

Overall, occupational health and safety specialists are skilled inspectors who make sure workplaces are ideally designed for boosting employees' well-being and productivity. This unique healthcare specialty is essential for implementing the corrective actions that reduce the threat for disease and injury at work. Becoming an occupational health and safety specialist can be intensely rewarding because you'll implement precautions that stop toxic exposure, radiation, poor air quality, accidents, heat stroke, and other dangers. It could also place you on the pathway to advancement as a occupational health director or Chief Safety Officer (CSO).


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