The job of occupational health and safety specialist consists of examining and inspecting different work situations, environments, and operations to ensure they’re following safety rules and regulations. These professionals play a big role in keeping workplaces up to standards, and ensuring the safety of employees who work in those areas. This occupation also can involve creating programs and procedures to prevent or minimize injuries in the workplace, and training workers on how to remain safe while doing their job.
The usual jobs and duties for an occupational health and safety specialist are:
There are a wide variety of duties that come with the job of occupational health and safety specialist. These may include collecting samples of potentially toxic, harmful chemicals and substances for analysis, along with performing regular inspections of workplaces to make sure they follow health and safety regulations and requirements. With these regulations being changed and updated all the time, this is an important part of this occupation.
Work Situations and Schedules
This career often involves traveling and working in offices, factories, mines, and a variety of other work settings. There is quite a bit of hands-on fieldwork involved with occupational health and safety specialists. People in this career path often work in strenuous, potentially dangerous situations to accurately evaluate safety standards. Most of these specialists work full-time, and may occasionally work weekends or irregular hours if needed.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, predicts jobs for occupational health and safety specialists will grow by four percent nationwide between 2014 and 2024. This is slower than the average for occupations overall, but the outlook is still positive. Workplace health and safety regulations are being updated all the time, and new regulations will require more specialists to ensure these policies are being followed. The constant addition of new technological advances will result in more machinery and equipment in the workplace, and this will call for more specialists to both create this equipment, and regulate the safe use of it. On top of that, people are staying in the work force longer, retiring at a later age than previous generations did. This aging population of workers will call for an increase in cost for workers’ compensation, which will also aid the growth of this career.
Education and Training Requirements
A bachelor’s degree is typically required to begin a career as an occupational health and safety specialist. A degree in occupational health is preferred, but those with degrees in a similar scientific or technical field, such as biology or engineering, can often also get jobs in the field of occupational health. For certain more specific specialties, a master’s degree may be required. Coursework typically consists of classes in chemistry, biology, radiology, management of hazardous material, construction safety, and engineering.
Internships and additional on-the-job training are sometimes needed, especially in more specialized fields. Important characteristics of people wanting to work in this field include the following:
Official certification is not required for all specialties in this field, but it is often very helpful in carrying out the job and, as such, is heavily encouraged. There are multiple organizations that offer certification courses, most of which require previous work experience. These are also dependent on the field of specialty desired. Many certifications require regular, continuous education to remain valid.
As of May 2016, occupational health and safety specialists earned an average annual income of $70,920. The highest average salary went to those working for the federal government, with an average annual salary of $79,730. Those working in more specific fields, like scientific and technical services, earned an annual average of $72,270. Those in the fields of manufacturing and construction earned slightly less on average, with the median annual income being between $69,410 and $71,980. Occupational health and safety specialists employed under state governments typically had a lower wage, earning an annual average of $59,620.
As of May 2016, the state that employs the highest number of occupational health and safety specialists are Texas, with 11,560 residents employed in this field. This is followed by California, with 6,260 employees in the field of occupational health and safety. Coming in third place in this category is Ohio, where 3,790 specialists in this field live.
Returning the focus to salary, the area in the US where occupational health and safety specialists earn the highest annual income is the District of Columbia, with an average annual income of $92,030. Second place in this category goes to North Dakota, where the average annual income is $88,810 for this specialty. Closely following North Dakota is Rhode Island, where occupational health and safety specialists earn an annual average of $87,360.
Now let’s look at states with the highest concentration of these occupations. The state that tops the list here is Alaska, where the concentration is 1.61 occupational health and safety specialists per one thousand jobs, for a location quotient of 2.95. Alaska is followed by Wyoming in this category, with 1.38 of this occupation per one thousand jobs, and a location quotient of 2.52. The state coming in third place on this list is Montana, with 1.13 occupational health and safety specialists per one thousand jobs, making for a location quotient of 2.07.
Statistics by Industry
As of May 2016, the biggest employer of occupational health and safety specialists is the federal government, with 7,070 jobs falling into this category. Local and state governments are the second and third largest employers, respectively, with 6,950 of these specialists working for local governments and 6,130 working for state governments. As far as salary is concerned, the top paying industry for this occupation is oil and gas extraction, with an average annual income of $93,730. This is followed by other pipeline industries, with an average annual income of $88,780 for specialists. The industry with the third-highest pay for this occupation is scientific research and development services, with an average annual income of $88,060. Finally are the industries that have the highest concentration of occupational health and safety specialists. The top industry in this category is waste treatment and disposal, with this occupation making up 1.09 percent of workers in the industry. This is followed in second place by oil and gas extraction, with .79 percent of workers having this occupation. Third on the list in this category is petroleum and coal products manufacturing, where .62 percent of the workforce consists of occupational health and safety specialists.
Careers that are similar to that of occupational health and safety specialist are:
Occupational health and safety specialists play a critical, key role in maintaining safe workplaces and protecting employees, as well as protecting the environment. People with this occupation are employed by the local, state, and federal government, as well as manufacturing industries, hospitals and other healthcare services, scientific and technical consulting services, and more. While the field is growing slower than the overall national average, there is still promise in this career path. The aging generations of employees and new health and safety regulations coming out regularly are both factors that play a big part in the positive outlook of this industry, and this specialty is likely to be around for a long time to come. This occupation can be a very good fit for detail-oriented, technically inclined people that like traveling and seeing a variety of work environments. If that sounds like your area of interest, then the career of occupational health and safety specialist might be a good fit for you.