Occupational Health & Safety Specialist
An occupational health and safety specialist could...
|Monitor the indoor air quality of factories to make sure workers are not exposed to toxic levels of chemicals.||Inspect nuclear power plants and evaluate their procedures to ensure workers are not exposed to radiation.|
|Hold safety training for supervisors of farm workers to teach them precautions to take during a heat wave and how to recognize heat stroke.||Review the history of assembly line worker injuries to detect patterns in the accidents.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||Many people work in environments that have obvious potential dangers, like collapses in mines, chemicals in laboratories, or machinery in factories, but there can be hazards in almost any job, like repetitive stress injuries from constant computer use or from scanning groceries. Occupational health and safety specialists identify potential hazards in a job, and then figure out ways to reduce the risks of accidents or injuries to workers or to the public. They also investigate accidents when they do happen, writing reports that detail the causes, and making recommendations to prevent future mishaps. Their motto is "safety on the job is no accident."|
|Key Requirements||Detail-oriented, observant, responsible, with excellent communication skills|
|Minimum Degree||Bachelor's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Biology, chemistry, physics, algebra geometry, algebra II, pre-calculus, English; if available, computer science, environmental science, physiology, statistics|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%)|
|Interview||In this interview, you'll meet Greg Tate, an occupational health and safety specialist with the National Institutes of Health, who enjoys keeping safe the researchers who devote their lives to improving public health.|
Training, Other Qualifications
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.
Education and Training
Some employers require occupational health and safety specialists to have a bachelor's degree in occupational health, safety, or a related field, such as engineering, biology, or chemistry. For some positions, a master's degree in industrial hygiene or a related subject is required.
As of February 2007, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology accredited 45 programs in health physics, industrial hygiene, and safety.
In general, people who want to enter this occupation should be responsible and like detailed work. Occupational health and safety specialists and technicians also should be able to communicate well.
Nature of the Work
Occupational health and safety specialists help prevent harm to workers, property, the environment, and to the general public. They analyze work environments and design programs to control, eliminate, and prevent disease or injury. They look for chemical, physical, radiological, and biological hazards, and they work to make more equipment ergonomic—designed to promote proper body positioning, increase worker comfort, and decrease fatigue. For example, to design safe work spaces, they inspect machines, such as lifting devices or scaffolding, or test air quality to ensure that they comply with appropriate safety regulations. They may check that personal protective equipment, such as masks, respirators, protective eyewear, or hardhats, is being used 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 inspection 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.
In addition to making workers safer, specialists aim to increase worker productivity by reducing absenteeism and equipment downtime—and to save money by lowering insurance premiums and workers' compensation payments, and preventing government fines. Some specialists work for governments, conducting safety inspections and imposing fines. Specialists may conduct inspections and inform an organization's management of areas not in compliance with state and federal laws or employer policies. They also advise management on the cost and effectiveness of safety and health programs. Some provide training on new regulations and policies or on how to recognize hazards. Loss-prevention specialists work for insurance companies, inspecting the facilities that they insure and suggesting and helping to implement improvements.
Sometimes, specialists develop methods to predict hazards from historical data and other information sources. They use these methods and their own knowledge and experience to evaluate current equipment, products, facilities, or processes and those planned for use in the future. For example, they might uncover patterns in injury data that show that many injuries are caused by a specific type of system failure, human error, or weakness in procedures. They evaluate the probability and severity of accidents and identify where controls need to be implemented to reduce or eliminate risk. If a new program or practice is required, they propose it to management and monitor results if it is implemented. Specialists also might conduct safety training for management, supervisors, and workers. Training sessions might show how to recognize hazards, for example, or explain new regulations and production processes.
If an injury or illness occurs, occupational health and safety specialists help investigate, studying its causes and recommending remedial action. They write reports, including accident reports, and enter information on Occupational Safety and Health Administration recordkeeping forms. They may prepare documents used in legal proceedings and give testimony in court. Those who develop expertise in specific areas may develop occupational health and safety systems, including policies, procedures, and manuals. Some occupational health and safety specialists help workers to return to work after accidents and injuries. They frequently communicate with management about the status of health and safety programs. They also might consult with engineers or physicians.
Occupational health and safety specialists and technicians work in a variety of settings, from offices and factories, to mines. Their jobs often involve considerable fieldwork, and some require frequent travel.
Occupational health and safety specialists and technicians may be exposed to many of the same strenuous, dangerous, or stressful conditions faced by industrial employees. They may find themselves in an adversarial role if an organization disagrees with their recommendations. Many occupational health and safety specialists and technicians work long, and often irregular, hours.
On the Job
- Order suspension of activities that pose threats to workers' health and safety.
- Recommend measures to help protect workers from potentially hazardous work methods, processes, or materials.
- Investigate accidents to identify causes and to determine how such accidents might be prevented in the future.
- Investigate the adequacy of ventilation, exhaust equipment, lighting, and other conditions that could affect employee health, comfort, or performance.
- Develop and maintain hygiene programs such as noise surveys, continuous atmosphere monitoring, ventilation surveys, and asbestos management plans.
- Inspect and evaluate workplace environments, equipment, and practices, in order to ensure compliance with safety standards and government regulations.
- Collaborate with engineers and physicians to institute control and remedial measures for hazardous and potentially hazardous conditions or equipment.
- Conduct safety training and education programs, and demonstrate the use of safety equipment.
- Provide new-employee health and safety orientations, and develop materials for these presentations.
- Collect samples of dust, gases, vapors, and other potentially toxic materials for analysis.
- Investigate health-related complaints, and inspect facilities to ensure that they comply with public health legislation and regulations.
- Coordinate right-to-know programs regarding hazardous chemicals and other substances.
- Maintain and update emergency response plans and procedures.
- Develop and maintain medical monitoring programs for employees.
- Inspect specified areas to ensure the presence of fire prevention equipment, safety equipment, and first-aid supplies.
- Conduct audits at hazardous waste sites or industrial sites, and participate in hazardous waste site investigations.
- Collect samples of hazardous materials, or arrange for sample collection.
- Maintain inventories of hazardous materials and hazardous wastes, using waste tracking systems to ensure that materials are handled properly.
- Prepare hazardous, radioactive, and mixed waste samples for transportation and storage by treating, compacting, packaging, and labeling them.
- Perform laboratory analyses and physical inspections of samples in order to detect disease or to assess purity or cleanliness.
Companies That Hire Occupational Health & Safety Specialists
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
Do you have a specific question about a career as an Occupational Health & Safety Specialist that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- American Industrial Hygiene Association: www.aiha.org
- American Board of Industrial Hygiene: www.abih.org
- Board of Certified Safety Professionals: www.bcsp.org
- O*Net Online. (2016). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved July 1, 2017, from https://www.onetonline.org/
- National Institutes of Health Office of Science Education. (2005, March 21). Meet a Real Occupational Health and Safety Specialist, Greg Tate. Retrieved November 12, 2009, from http://nihlifeworks.org/Interviews/Greg%2BTate.html
We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:
- Northrup Grumman
Explore Our Science Videos
Build an Infinity Mirror
How to Build a Brushbot
Colorful Melting Ice Ball Patterns - STEM Activity