Occupational health specialists work in a variety of environments ranging from construction to offices.
Occupational health and safety specialists analyze many types of work environments and work procedures. The Occupational Health Job Description: Occupational health and safety specialists and technicians help prevent harm to workers, property, the environment, and the general public.
They promote occupational health and safety within organizations in many ways, such as by advising management on how to increase worker productivity through raising morale and reducing absenteeism, turnover, and equipment downtime while securing savings on insurance premiums, workers’ compensation benefits, and litigation expenses.
Occupational health and safety specialists analyze work environments and design programs to control, eliminate, and prevent disease or injury caused by chemical, physical, radiological, and biological agents or ergonomic factors that involve the impact of equipment design on a worker’s comfort or fatigue.
They may conduct inspections and inform the management of a business which areas may not be in compliance with State and Federal laws or employer policies, in order to gain their support for addressing these areas. They advise management on the cost and effectiveness of safety and health programs.
Occupational health and safety technicians collect data on work environments for analysis by occupational health and safety specialists. Usually working under the supervision of specialists, they help implement and evaluate programs designed to limit risks to workers.
The specific responsibilities of occupational health and safety specialists and technicians vary by industry, workplace, and types of hazards affecting employees.
In most settings, they initially focus on identifying hazardous conditions and practices. Sometimes they develop methods to predict hazards from experience, historical data, workplace analysis, and other information sources. Then they identify potential hazards in systems, equipment, products, facilities, or processes planned for use in the future.
For example, they might uncover patterns in injury data that implicate a specific cause such as system failure, human error, incomplete or faulty decision making, or a weakness in existing policies or practices. After reviewing the causes or effects of hazards, they evaluate the probability and severity of accidents or exposures to hazardous materials that may result. Then they identify where controls need to be implemented to reduce or eliminate hazards and advise if a new program or practice is required.
As necessary, they conduct training sessions for management, supervisors, and workers on health and safety practices and regulations to promote an understanding of a new or existing process. After implementation, they may monitor and evaluate the program’s progress, making additional suggestions when needed.
Occupational health and safety specialists and technicians work with many different people in a variety of environments. Their jobs often involve considerable fieldwork, and some travel frequently. Many occupational health and safety specialists and technicians work long and often irregular hours.
Occupational health and safety specialists and technicians may be exposed to many of the same physically strenuous conditions and hazards as industrial employees, and the work may be performed in unpleasant, stressful, and dangerous working conditions. They may find themselves in an adversarial role if the management of an organization disagrees with the recommendations for ensuring a safe working environment.
Education and Training
All occupational health and safety specialists and technicians are trained in the applicable laws or inspection procedures through some combination of classroom and on-the-job training. Awards and degrees in programs related to occupational safety and health include 1-year certificates, associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and graduate degrees.
The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) accredits health physics, industrial hygiene, and safety programs, in addition to engineering programs. Many employers, including the Federal Government, require a bachelor’s degree in occupational health, safety, or a related field, such as engineering, biology, or chemistry, for some specialist positions.
Many industrial hygiene programs result in a master’s degree. Experience as an occupational health and safety professional is also a prerequisite for many positions. Advancement to senior specialist positions is likely to require an advanced degree and substantial experience in several areas of practice.
In general, people who want to enter this occupation should be responsible and like detailed work. Occupational health and safety specialists and technicians should be able to communicate well. Recommended high school courses include English, mathematics, chemistry, biology, and physics.
Licensing and Credentialing
These healthcare professionals are not usually licensed or regulated. Certification can be obtained from a number of associations. Certification is seen as a verification of skills and knowledge and is often desired by employers.
About 2 out of 5 specialists worked in Federal, State, and local government agencies that enforce rules on safety, health, and the environment.
Many employers, including the Federal Government, require a bachelor’s degree in occupational health, safety, or a related field for some specialist positions.
Projected average employment growth reflects a balance of continuing public demand for a safe and healthy work environment against the desire for smaller government and fewer regulations.
The majority of occupational health and safety specialists or technicians work in the private sector but 2 out of 5 work in the public sector for local, state and federal agencies. The opportunity for advancement is significant in this arena.
Resources for Occupational Health and Safety Specialists Job Description:
Occupational Health and Safety Specialists Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition.