Occupational Safety and Health Workers


Education and Training Requirements

High School

If you are interested in becoming an occupational safety and health worker, you will need to acquire a bachelor's degree at the minimum. Therefore, while you are in high school, take a college preparatory course of study. Subjects that you should concentrate on include mathematics and sciences. Especially important are algebra, trigonometry, calculus, biology, chemistry, and physics. Because this work is so involved with people and their reactions to environments, you may also want to take psychology courses. Finally, because part of your work will include writing reports, giving presentations, and explaining changes to others, you will need to develop both your oral and written communication skills. To do this, take English classes throughout your high school years. If your school offers speech classes, you may want to take these as well.

Postsecondary Training

For your postsecondary education, you should plan on getting a bachelor's degree in engineering or in one of the physical or biological sciences. Employers usually prefer to hire a candidate with a bachelor's or master's degree that is specifically related to occupational safety and health, such as safety engineering or management, industrial hygiene, fire-protection engineering, public health, or health physics. Degrees in chemical or mechanical engineering are also very desirable. According to the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), more than 125 colleges and universities offer degrees in safety management, occupational safety, environmental protection, or a related field. Visit the Careers in Safety section of the ASSE's Web site (https://www.assp.org/students/accredited-academic-programs) for a list of schools. In addition to the schools offering safety degrees, some engineering schools offer a safety specialty within their traditional engineering degree programs. Many schools with safety degree programs are having difficulty accommodating the growing interest in an occupational safety education and have long waiting lists of students. These schools, however, have no trouble placing their graduates in jobs. The ASSE and some private foundations offer scholarships.

Employers are increasingly interested in hiring people who have a knowledge of the three major categories in occupational safety and health: safety, industrial hygiene, and environmental management. Therefore, you should try to combine your studies; for example, if you major in safety, then you should minor in environmental affairs, or vice versa.

Workers in this field must keep abreast of new and changing trends and technologies. For this reason, many insurance companies provide training seminars and correspondence courses for the members of their staff. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration offers courses on topics such as occupational injury investigation and radiological health hazards. The ASSE, the National Safety Council, and other groups also provide continuing professional education for safety engineers.

In some cases you may be able to find employment with only a two-year degree, working as a safety and health technician. To advance in the field, however, you will need to complete further education.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Certification is offered by a number of professional organizations. Requirements typically include graduation from an accredited program, a certain amount of work experience, and passing a written exam. The Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP) reports that more than 90 percent of the employers advertising job openings in the magazine Professional Safety wanted job candidates to have a degree plus experience and more than half required the designation certified safety professional (CSP). In addition to offering the CSP designation, the BCSP also offers certification in three specialty areas: construction safety, ergonomics, and system safety. Other organizations offering certification include the American Board of Industrial Hygiene and the National Fire Protection Association.

States require licensure for some occupational safety and health workers, depending on the job they do. For example, professional engineers must be licensed, although exact requirements may vary from state to state. In general, however, requirements include graduation from an accredited program, work experience, and the passing of written exams.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Occupational health and safety specialists must have a bachelor's degree and receive moderate on-the-job training that is specific to their specialty. Good communication skills are necessary to express safety instructions and concerns to employees and managers and to work with technicians in collecting samples of possible hazards. Health and safety specialists need to be detail oriented and possess physical stamina in order to stand for long periods and sometimes work in uncomfortable surroundings. They also need problem-solving skills to deal with unsafe conditions and threats to the environment, and technical skills to work with complex testing equipment. Like other safety and health workers, safety specialists must be dependable, cooperative, and persistent to achieve their goals. Perhaps most important is a concern for others, whether fellow employees or members of the general public, who depend on health and safety specialists to keep their workplaces safe and secure from threats to their health.