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How to Become an Occupational Health and Safety Specialist
Alternate Career Titles:
Occupational Safety Specialist, Safety Consultant, Safety Manager
Occupational Health and Safety Specialist Job Description: Occupational Health and Safety Specialists assess and analyze both employment environments and procedures for safety.
Occupational Health and Safety Specialist Salary (Annual): $74,100
Occupational Health and Safety Specialist Salary Range: $43,630 to $111,130
How Long To Become an Occupational Health and Safety Specialist: 4 years
Occupational Health and Safety Specialist Requirements: Bachelor’s Degree in Occupational Health and Safety
Become an Occupational Health and Safety Specialist
An Occupational Health and Safety Specialist is responsible for assessing and evaluating workplace environments, procedures and equipment (i.e. lights, ventilation, materials, etc.) to ensure safety compliance. Their mission is to ensure that facilities are following government regulations and safety standards. Upon assessment, these Safety Consultants will develop reports and educate employers on their workplace standings.
If areas do not meet standards and regulations, Occupational Health and Safety Specialists will inform employers on how they can meet expectations and may provide them with training opportunities. Furthermore, if an employer’s workplace is suspect to inadequate safety measures, or if incidents or accidents relating to a company’s safety have occurred, these professionals may investigate the cause. These professionals may be assisted by Occupational Health and Safety Technicians.
“As an Occupational Safety Specialist, you must know a little about everything,” Luis Artigas, an Occupational Health and Safety Specialist at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, NV, said. “From Unified Facility Codes, National Fire Protection standards and to OSHA standards; Safety Specialists ensure their employers are up-to-date on the latest in safety matters, assist them in promoting safety education and ensuring the workplace complies with these safety directives.”
Artigas noted that companies hire safety professionals as a Subject Matter Expert (SME) in OSHA, NEC, NFPA and UFC standards. Therefore, one of this position’s primary responsibilities is to interpret these standards and ensure that their company is in compliance.
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Education & Training
To become an Occupational Health and Safety Specialist, professionals must obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in occupational health and safety. However, some professionals in this field also pursue a Master’s Degree in a related science or technical field. During these degree programs, learners are taught about hygiene, management, accident prevention, material-handling, respiratory protection and more. Once a Bachelor’s Degree is obtained, these professionals are normally asked to undergo on-site training as well. There, Occupational Health and Safety Specialists will learn more about their employer’s policies and expectations. Learn about other careers in public health.
“A well-qualified safety professional should have at a minimum three continuing education units a year,” Artigas added. “Many safety organizations will also offer certifications such as Certified Safety Auditor, Certified Environmental Safety Supervisor and Certified Safety Professional (CSP); all examples of the top certifications for safety professionals. The training can be challenging, but I always tell any prospective safety professional, ‘There is a reason why safety professionals exist.’”
“For Occupational Health and Safety Specialists to advance their careers, constant education is the key,” Antigas stressed. “Standards are constantly changing, as organizations develop new ways of improving workplace safety for employees. Although there are several ways to advance your career, the way you truly advance is gaining more education.”
One way to advance in this career is to become certified through the Board of Certified Safety Professionals. The offered certifications include Certified Safety Professional (CSP), Associate Safety Professional (ASP), Occupational Health and Safety Technologist (OHST) and Construction Health and Safety Technician (CHST). Although certification is voluntary and not required by most workplaces, this accreditation can help a professional to obtain increased responsibilities and perhaps pay.
Experience & Skills
“The first skill set any safety professional should hold is public speaking,” Antigas said. “Oftentimes a safety professional will have to go out and interact with many employees, whether to inform them of new developments or just to get involved in the day to day work routines of the organization. Being involved shows a level of commitment to the safety of the workers, rather than being always being cooped up in their office.”
Additionally, to be an effective Occupational Health and Safety Specialist, professionals should be able to operate advanced technology and work with complex testing equipment. They should also have the assessment skills necessary to determine if an employer meets all safety standards.
“Attention to detail is a must as any hazard can be fatal to employees,” Antigas added.
“Any person desiring to be an Occupational Safety Specialist should have an outgoing personality,” Antigas said. “You must be able to interact with your peers without being seen as the ‘bad guy.’ People often think the worst of any inspector, but as a safety professional your duties are to ensure safety compliance and not just to write somebody up to get them in trouble.”
Other qualities of an effective Occupational Health and Safety Specialist include being innately curious, making sure that all parts of a workplace provide safety measures. They should also be assertive in expressing to managers or supervisors what changes need to be made, and they should be organized and detail-oriented. Standards and regulations can be complex, so ensuring that they are being followed completely is the responsibility of an Occupational Health and Safety Specialist.
“A day for me starts by opening my email and sorting over my 100+ unread emails. These can compile after being out in the field for more than three hours,” Antigas explained. “After I read through the requests, I make a priority list on my notepad.”
He said that next, he prioritizes requests based on their deadlines and that any mishap report takes precedence. Then, he makes note of any pending inspection reports, followed by any training requests and assistance visit requests.
“As I’m working through all this, I get constant phone calls in regards to a variety of safety matters,” Antigas said. “If a hazard report comes through and we determine that the report is an imminent danger to life and health, then we put everything else on hold and set out to investigate.”
In fulfilling this role, Occupational Health and Safety Specialists normally work full-time in either office or factory settings, and some may work weekends. In emergency situations, irregular working hours may be required. Additionally, as this work involves safety inspections, the Safety Specialist themselves may be exposed to dangerous conditions. Therefore, Occupational Health and Safety Specialists are usually required to wear helmets, gloves and other forms of personal protective equipment to help reduce the risk of injury or illness while conducting assessments or moving about a plant.
“The day-to-day duties of an Occupational Safety Specialist can be tedious since we are charged with interpreting national standards to safeguard employees,” Artigas said. “However, the role is very rewarding. The feeling you get when a hazard has been abated and employees can perform their duties without fear of getting injured is extremely satisfying.”
This occupation is a stable career choice because, over the next decade, the career is projected to grow 6 percent. This growth can be attributed to the pressure on companies to adhere to all myriad health standards and regulations. Furthermore, as insurance costs and workers’ compensation claims are on the increase, these professionals are in higher demand.
Most Occupational Health and Safety Specialists are employed by the government, yet others find employment in manufacturing companies, construction companies, management services, consulting services and hospitals. States with the highest level of employment of Occupational Health and Safety Specialists are Texas, California, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania.
“From my research, the need for Occupational Health and Safety Specialists is continuously growing,” Antigas confirmed. “A good starting point for anyone interested in safety careers is to look at the requirements employers have. Some may have more stringent standards than others.”
Understanding the various career requirements will help you to know which educational pathways to consider. Learn about other careers in healthcare today!
The median annual wage for Occupational Health and Safety Specialists is $74,100. While the lowest 10 percent were recorded to have earned less than $43,630, the highest 10 percent earned more than $111,130. So, there is great variation in the earning potential within this career in healthcare! Additionally, the top-paying facilities are manufacturing companies, state, local and private hospitals, construction companies, the government and consulting services. The highest paying state for this occupation is the District of Columbia, followed by North Dakota, Rhode Island, Maryland and Alaska.
“The earnings in this career really vary depending on the professional’s discipline, experience and education level,” Antigas said.
Unions, Groups and Associations
The American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH) is the world’s largest organization for certifying professionals in the practice of industrial hygiene. The purpose of this organization is to protect and enhance the health, safety and environment of people in their workplace settings by establishing a valid and reliable credentialing process.
The Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP) is a certification board used to certify practitioners in the safety profession. This board does so by evaluating professionals on their potential to cause injury or illness to people at their workplace setting, or the property of the setting itself.
- Find out if safety is your passion. Safety may not be the most active career in the world, but the role does impact a lot in workers’ daily life.
- If the career is something that interests you, research and decides on what capacity you would like to work in, what are your aspirations and goals in the field are.
- Determine the educational requirements and pursue them
- Network with industry professionals and companies
All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meet the professional: Luis Antigas
Practice: Nellis Air Force Base
Location: Las Vegas, NV
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Get an education, and then keep studying.”
What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“I think the biggest mistake people make is trying to be like an OSHA inspector. OSHA is authorized to fine organizations that are not in compliance, thus making them seem as if they are the ‘bad guys’ in the eyes of the workers and the organization.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“What is expected of me as a safety professional?”
Why did you choose to become an Occupational Health and Safety Specialist?
“I was a mechanic in the Air Force for 7 years. I had some experience in safety through other means in the Air Force and I liked it. I like to help others, and through this career, I believe I can achieve that.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
“Perseverance and will power are my two most powerful tools. I never give up and never back down, no matter what comes my way; I stand tall.”
*Credentialing organization: The Board of Certified Safety Professionals
*Credentialing organization: The Board of Certified Safety Professionals