What do you want to become?
Occupational Health and Safety Technician
Alternate Career Titles: Occupational Health and Safety Technologist, OHST
Career Overview: Occupational Health and Safety Technicians test and measure workplace hazards
Career Salary Range: $31,650 to $82,190
Estimated Years of Schooling Required: 2
Required Minimum Degree/License: Associate’s Degree in Occupational Health and Safety, Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety
Become an Occupational Health and Safety Technician
An Occupational Health and Safety Technician is responsible for testing and measuring the potential for workplace safety hazards. These professionals also perform checks to ensure employees are taking the necessary precautions to avoid injury and illness. An example would be making sure construction worker are all actively using protective eyewear, facemasks and/or hardhats. These preventionary measures and checks are done to help protect workers from harm by the environment, equipment or activities.
“Working as an Occupational Health and Safety Technician is challenging career because you work on so many different types of issues including employee behavior, employee engagement, compliance with OSHA requirements, environmental, health and wellness programs and project management,” Mark Patton, an Occupational Health and Safety Technician practicing in California, said. “The career is also rewarding because you get to help people.”
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Education & Training
To become an Occupational Health and Safety Technician, students must obtain an Associate’s Degree in occupational health and safety or pursue a certificate program. On either pathway learners can expect to take general education courses in biology, chemistry, mathematics, English and more. He or she should also learn about hazard communication, material-handling, respiratory protection and storage procedures.
“I did not intend to be in this career, but as my skill set developed I found myself growing into the role,” Patton explained. “While degrees are helpful, life experience cannot be discounted although I would not hire someone in this role who only held degrees without experience.”
Patton thinks that whereas certain concepts can be taught the ability to work well with others, act as a part of a team and listen are critical skills that can only be obtained through personal experience. He believes what makes a strong candidate for this occupation involves a person who is interested in helping solve workplace problems and a concern for worker safety.
To advance in this career, Occupational Health and Safety Technicians may choose to work toward obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Continued education can lead to advanced opportunities as an Occupational Health and Safety Specialist or may lead to other career paths which involve jobs with greater responsibility.
“The value of work experience cannot be underestimated. , You have to constantly push yourself to work on new projects to gain new experiences,” Patton advised. “Do not hesitate to volunteer. Networking and building relationships are very important. Schooling and accreditation are also valuable and may open doors to new opportunities.”
Patton further explained there is a huge difference between having corporate authority granted by a company to “oversee” others in the role of supervisor or manager and being a true “leader”. He noted most health and safety professionals find themselves with no direct corporate dotted line of authority over another; instead they become coaches, advisors and motivators. Patton said this is why conduct and the ability to work with others is so important.
“You need to be able to explain the ‘why’ and ‘how’ in each scenario and be able to get people to engage and do the right thing” Patton expressed.
Experience & Skills
Occupational Health and Safety Technicians must be able to communicate effectively with specialists, workplace managers and employees. In addition, they should be able to clearly relay safety instructions as well as provide training and feedback on current safety standards. Furthermore, OHSTs need to be able to operate a variety of testing equipment and other technology integral to this role.
The ability of OHSTs to think critically and problem solve will enable them to design and implement safety measures that have the greatest chance of protecting workers in hazardous work conditions. Assessing workplace environments can be physically strenuous. Thus, Occupational Health and Safety Technicians need to be physically prepared to stand for long periods of time and to work in unusual or challenging environments (tunnels, mines, caves, etc.).
“This is not a career for those who are high strung or who have control issues, but rather a career for people who work well with a diverse workforce and who take the time to think before they act,” Patton said. “You must be a subject matter expert, and when you interact with people you will either be able to problem solve and find a solution or you won’t.”
Patton added taking the time to get to the root of an issue and formulating corrective actions makes a difference. He commented that attitude, education or subject matter knowledge and commitment, along with the ability to work well with others are the top skills needed as an OHST.
An Occupational Health and Safety Technician must be organized and able to clearly record information pertaining to workplace safety. They must be detail-oriented and committed to exposing any and all workplace safety issues or breaches in protocol. The ability to manage stress is another important characteristic for OHSTS.
“The most important attribute when pursuing the educational requirements for this profession is attitude,” Patton stressed. “If you don’t care about people and you don’t want to help people then this career will frustrate you. If you truly want to make a difference and help people then this career would be a good fit.”
The majority of Construction Health and Safety Technicians (CHST) work a full time schedule although, evenings or weekends maybe required during special circumstances or emergencies. If the OHST assesses safety measures in more than one facility, then travel may be involved. Evaluating working conditions can on occasion, be dangerous, stressful and/or strenuous. To minimize a Occupational Health and Safety Technologist’s risk of injury or illness, these professionals often have to wear personal protective equipment such as hard helmets, gloves and masks
“Everyone tries to plan their day to some extent, but you can not plan for injury accidents or near misses at the workplace,” Patton explained. “Everyday requires flexibility and patience to figure out what has to be done and what can wait. There is always more work than time, but if you have time and no work then you have missed something.”
Now is a great time to enter a career as an Occupational Health and Safety Technician!
Why? Over the next decade, this career in healthcare is projected to grow 10 percent. This rate is much faster than the average for all occupations! Ultimately, this growth can be attributed to an emphasis being placed on workplace safety, adherence to regulations and precautionary safety measures. This is the case for many companies because workers’ compensation costs can be extremely expensive; therefore stronger measures of prevention can often deter an increase in claims.
The employers hiring the greatest number of Occupational Health and Safety Technicians include: the government, manufacturers, construction companies and firms, consulting services and hospitals. Also, the state employing the greatest number of professionals within this occupation is Texas, followed by California, Ohio, Louisiana and New York.
“LinkedIn is a great way to network and learn more from health and safety professionals,” Patton suggested. “Always ask questions of professionals already in the business. Overall, there are plenty of positions out there, as well as a need for strong health and safety candidates.”
Employment as an Occupational Health and Safety Technician can prove to be a lucrative career! Today the median annual wage for this role is $49,960. The lowest earning 10% of these employees are recorded to make less than $31,650 per year, the highest earning 10% earned more than $82,190.
For reference, the highest paying industry employers of these professionals are construction companies and firms, the government, manufacturing facilities, hospitals and management and technical consulting services. The top paying states for this occupation are the District of Columbia, Washington, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Massachusetts.
But, “you don’t enter this career just for the money,” Patton emphasized.
Unions, Groups and Associations
The U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is part of the United States Department of Labor. The administration is focused on assuring safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is dedicated to developing new knowledge in the field of occupational safety and health and to transfer that knowledge into practice.
- Gain certification through OSHA for both construction and general industry
- Find a industry professional via LinkedIn or a school to shadow
- Reflect on whether this career is a good individual fit
- Volunteer on safety committees and projects to gain experience
- Obtain a formal education, including a bachelor’s or master’s degree
- Apply knowledge and experience to the real world scenarios
All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meet the professional: Mark Patton
Practice: Bretts Company
Location: Fresno, CA
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Complete an internship as soon as possible or volunteer for a safety committee to get exposure and build your experience.”
What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“They get hung up on book knowledge and don’t build their people skills. This career is about keeping people and their environment safe and healthy. No one wants a ‘safety and environmental police officer,’ they want to be treated respectfully and as a member of a team.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“They should ask how many team members make up the health and safety department. Often you will be the only health and safety professional on staff, and therefore the position can involve a lot of work. This is not a good career option for individuals who are not self-motivated or ‘go-getters.’”
Why did you choose to become an Occupational Health and Safety Technician?
“I chose to become an Occupational Health and Safety Technician because the career allows me to help people every day, and I feel like I can truly make a difference.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
*Credentialing organization: The Board of Certified Safety Professionals