Occupational health and safety specialists attempt to prevent workers, property, the environment, and the public from being physically harmed. They work to promote health and safety in various types of organizations by helping those organizations develop policies and methods that will improve health and safety as well as efficiency. Their specific duties vary greatly from industry to industry. In most industries, they begin by identifying hazardous conditions and practices, as well as predicting future hazards with the use of historical data. After identifying hazards, they then evaluate the potential severity of the hazards. Then they create a plan that will reduce or eliminate the hazard and improve the overall health and safety of workers. They often track the progress of the plan as it is implemented by the organization.
Some occupational health and safety specialists test machines and other equipment to make sure it meets safety standards. They ensure the correct storage of dangerous materials, and may monitor the use of protective equipment, such as masks, respirators, protective eyewear, or hardhats. They often use various types of scientific equipment to measure the levels of hazardous substances in the workplace. They collect samples of dust, gases, vapors, and other toxic materials. Occupational health and safety specialists sometimes investigate the causes of accidents after they occur, and some assist injured workers in their rehabilitation.
Occupational health and safety specialists must have excellent communication skills, as they are constantly required to communicate with many different types of people, such as management, engineers, and physicians. They should have good writing skills because they are so often required to produce written reports concerning their findings.
In 2002, occupational health and safety specialists earned a median annual salary of $46,010. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $25,080, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $71,450.
Training and Education
Entry into occupational health and safety specialist positions requires experience, education, and the successful passing of examinations. Many employers prefer to hire applicants who already have experience as an occupational health and safety specialist, and many employers require a 4-year college degree. Training includes an emphasis on the applicable laws or inspection procedures and is usually complemented by on-the-job training. Occupational health and safety specialists can become certified through the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP) or the Council on Certification of Health, Environmental, and Safety Technologists (OHST). Certification involves meeting educational requirements, passing examinations, and completing continuing education courses. Certification is voluntary, but many employers give a high degree of weight to certification when making hiring decisions.
In 2002, occupational health and safety specialists held about 41,000 jobs. Many worked in government agencies – 17% in local governments, 14% in State governments, and 6% in the Federal government.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of occupational health and safety specialists is expected to increase about as fast as the average. While the desire for safety in the workplace continues to grow, growth will be tempered by increasing public demand for smaller government and fewer regulations.
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