Occupational Health and Safety Specialists are Trained to Analyze Work Environments
Occupational health and safety specialist are known as occupational and safety health inspectors or safety and health inspectors in some industries. Forty-one percent work for State, Federal, and local government agencies that monitor and enforce rules on health, safety, and the environment. The remaining fifty-nine percent work to prevent harm to property, workers, and the general public in large corporations and small companies.
Occupational health and safety specialists inspect machines, design safer work areas, and test air quality. Specialists also reduce equipment downtime and worker absenteeism. They save money by reducing workers’ compensation payments and insurance premiums, plus they help prevent government fines. The specialists that hold government positions conduct different safety inspections and impose fines when rules are violated.
Safety and health professionals design programs that prevent diseases and they are also responsible for controlling injuries on the job by looking for chemical, biological, radiological, and physical hazards. Safety professionals help design ergonomic equipment that promote better body posture, and decrease fatigue. Health and safety specialists consult with company leaders so the cost of implementing health and safety programs does not spiral out of control.
Some specialists focus on new technology and develop methods and procedures that predict worker hazards before there become serious health issues. Specialists use their own knowledge and experience to evaluate products, equipment, and facilities that are currently in use as well as procedures and processes that are planned for future use. Specialists conduct safety training classes that explain safety regulations, safe work methods, and production processes.
Health and safety specialists that work for insurance companies are called prevention loss specialists. They inspect insured facilities and recommend improvements that can prevent claims. Environmental specialists are called environmental protection officers. They evaluate and coordinate the storage as well as the handling of hazardous waste. They organize the cleanup of contaminated water and other resources that have a negative impact on the environment.
Responsibilities for safety and health professionals vary from industry to industry so the titles given to specialists usually pertain to the workplace and the types of hazards that are present in a particular industry. A health physicist is a specialist that deals with radioactive materials and processes that produce radiation. Ergonomists design office and industrial equipment that maximize comfort, productivity, and safety. Industrial hygienists examine the workplace for lead, asbestos, pesticides, noise, and communicable diseases.
Education, Training, and Advancement
A bachelor’s degree in safety, health, or a related field is a must for most employers, but a large number of employers require advanced degrees.
Degrees in biology, chemistry, or engineering are acceptable in some industries, but a master’s degree in health physics, industrial hygiene, or environmental science is required by companies that are involved in government contracts and global waste solutions. Typical college courses include hazardous waste management, radiation science, risk communications, respiratory protection, and the principles of ergonomics. Course requirements vary depending on the major and the branch of health and safety a student wants to pursue.
Most specialists receive certification from organizations like the American Board of Health Physicists; the American Board of Industrial Hygiene; the American Indoor Air Quality Council; and the Board of Certified Safety Professionals. The requirements for accreditation vary, but experience as well as the completion of certain educational programs is necessary. Once certified, specialists must continue education courses to be recertified. Most specialists are responsible, have a good work ethic, and have excellent communication skills, plus they have the ability to focus on details.
Advancement opportunities in Federal, State and local government positions are good if specialists have advanced degrees and a considerable amount of on-the-job experience. Supervisory positions are available, but they are based on government policy and needs as well as individual merit. Health specialists in private industry can advance to management positions in several ways. Most companies fill management positions with specialists that continue their education by attending conferences, taking advanced safety courses, and joining a professional society. Networking through conferences and different professional organizations is important, but a solid track record and a considerable amount of experience are the basic ingredients for advancement.
Salary, Benefits, and Job Opportunities
Average growth is expected in the health and safety professional field over the next ten years according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job opportunities are expected to increase by eleven percent in the private sector as well in government agencies. Job growth from retirements and transfers account for some growth, but most of the increase will come from insurance companies and companies that specialize in loss prevention.*
The average salary for an entry level position is around $36,000 a year plus benefits, and the average salary for specialists with experience is around $62,000 a year. The middle fifty percent earn between $55,000 and $75,000 a year. The top ten percent earn over $90,000 a year. Large corporations offer better benefits than government positions and positions in small private companies.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Additional Career Information
More information about health and safety specialist careers can be found by visiting the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Internet: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh, and the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Internet: http://www.osha.gov
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