Exploring a Career as an Occupational Health and Safety Specialist

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An occupational health and safety specialist reviewing corporate safety policy

No matter the industry or profession, workplaces need to be inspected and approved for employee safety. This is the role of occupational health and safety specialists. All public health servants work to make the world safer in some way, but occupational health and safety specialists specifically target offices, factories, and  other workplaces.

However, enterprise analysis isn’t their only role. In addition to conducting safety and health checks on site, these professionals often use their data to design and implement programs tailored toward promoting overall employee health in the workplace — specifically combating factors such as disease and work-related injury.

According to data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Department of Labor, 5,190 fatal work injuries occurred in the U.S. in 2016. This represents a 7 percent increase from 2015 and the first time that more than 5,000 fatalities happened in one year since 2008. This, in addition to the 2.9 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses from 2016 means the role of an occupational health and safety specialist is quite relevant today. Let’s take a look to see if it’s the right fit for you. If so, Regis College’s online Master of Public Health program may be an ideal starting point.

What is the average day of an occupational health and safety specialist?

As an occupational health and safety specialist, you will have six primary duties:

  1. Identify and record hazards documented in a workplace.
  2. Gather samples of any suspicious materials found on site to test for toxicity.
  3. Thoroughly examine all facets of the workplace environment, including hardware and procedures, to ensure that each measure meets proper government standards.
  4. Create new safety programs to help protect employees from potential dangers and diseases encountered in the workplace.
  5. Launch an investigation into any documented or undocumented workplace injury to determine how it happened and if it can be prevented in the future.
  6. Organize and lead training seminars on emergency procedures and health protocols to help teach employees all current and effective practices.

Workplace inspections tend to be very thorough, as you will be expected to test your assigned area’s fixtures, including ventilation equipment and lighting. The main goal of all of your tasks is to find and eliminate potential causes of worker downtime and to protect employees from suffering harmful injury from employer malpractice.

According to Truity, occupational health and safety specialists can be broken down into three different classifications:

  1. Ergonomists: These individuals focus on the designs of office and industrial equipment, working with developers and executives to improve worker safety and productivity.
  2. Health physicists: Working as a health physicist means operating with industries that work with radiation or radioactive components. These specialists help design protection, such as hazmat suits, that keep workers safe from radiation poisoning.
  3. Industrial or occupational hygienists: As an industrial or occupational hygienist, you will work to identify dangerous substances such as asbestos, lead, and various communicable diseases in the workplace.

Typical job requirements for an occupational health and safety specialist

As an occupational health and safety specialist, you should not expect to work in an office all day. These professionals frequently travel, going wherever directed by superiors. While this largely means local or area destinations, some occupational health and safety specialists can journey from state to state or even coast to coast.

You will be expected to have a thorough knowledge of government regulations and procedural advice, according to the Department of Labor. In addition, successful occupational health and safety specialists are good teachers. Part of your responsibilities can include employee education. How well you impart knowledge in a clear, concise, and easily digestible manner can mean the difference between success and failure in your assignment.

However, arguably the most important aspect of being an occupational health and safety specialist is perception. You must be able to see what corporations may try to hide and identify signs in employees that can point to workplace problems. This includes deductive and inductive reasoning skills, as well as problem sensitivity.

Job growth and salary expectations for an occupational health and safety specialist

As of May 2017, the median wage for occupational health and safety specialists was $71,780, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2016, there were 101,800 active occupational health and safety specialist positions, and this career is expected to grow by 8 percent from 2016 to 2026. This is positive news for any hoping to enter the field.

Insurance costs and workers’ compensation are a concern for many enterprises and insurance companies across industries, and this is unlikely to change in the future. In addition, the U.S. has an aging population, meaning that its workforce is growing older overall. This can lead to a plethora of complications among employees, including failing eyesight, hearing, and other disability factors.
As these situations unfold, it will be imperative that workplaces remain safe and comfortable for all employees. While some organizations may fear a visit from an occupational health and safety specialist, as well as its perceived costs, these professionals will continue to represent a cost-savings opportunity for businesses able and willing to follow their advice.

What skills should an MPH student have for this career?

In addition to the skills outlined above, graduate students can help boost their career potential with a Master of Public Health degree. Given the regulation-centric working style of occupational health and safety specialists, you may be well-served by pursuing a Health Policy and Management concentration, which focuses largely on improving infrastructure performance, influencing policy direction, and communicating data-based conclusions.

Enrolling in Regis College’s online Master of Public Health program can give you the flexibility to take classes on the go and in remote locations, in some ways preparing you for the lifestyle of a occupational health and safety specialist. To learn more about our program, including curriculum and admission requirements, please visit our website.


Recommended Readings:  

What You can Learn About Public Health Research  

What You can Learn About Health Promotion

What are Population-Based Health Services?



Master of Public Health

Health Policy and Management Concentration

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Summary, 2016

U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics: Employer-Reported Workplace Injury and Illnesses, 2016


The Department of Labor

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Health and Safety Specialists and Technicians