Exploring a Career as an Occupational Health and Safety Specialist

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Safety equipment including hardhat, gloves, and goggles.

An online Master of Public Health degree can open the doors to a number of exciting and important careers, including those in epidemiology and health policy and management. Because this type of degree program delves into areas not only related to health, but also policy creation and management, there are certain interesting employment opportunities that graduates may not have previously considered.

One of those roles is occupational health and safety specialist. This job can take professionals into numerous different work environments, with the main goal of ensuring that employers and facility managers adhere to laws and support worker safety.

The occupational health and safety specialist position requires certain skills and job training to prepare professionals for success. A great way to gain this experience is through an online Master of Public Health degree, like that offered by Regis College.

We’ll more closely examine this particular career path, and how an MPH program like the one from Regis College can put you on the path toward employment as an occupational health and safety specialist.

What is an occupational health and safety specialist?

It’s important to understand the occupational health and safety role before looking at the educational requirements of the job, as well as what experience and advantages a robust online MPH can provide.

As the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) explained, occupational health and safety specialists may work in a number of different environments, including government agencies, manufacturing facilities, construction sites, hospitals, and health care institutions, as well as in the scientific and technical services industry.

The work these professionals do involves a considerable amount of data gathering and analysis. Specialists look to learn as much as they can about the work environment they are investigating and the working procedures employees use. An occupational health and safety specialist reads over and analyzes the policies an organization has in place and checks that they align with current industry regulations and adhere to laws regarding work safety, health, and environmental impact, the BLS noted.

These professionals may also conduct tests or perform certain measurements to support their findings, or to analyze the level to which a particular work hazard might impact workers, the environment, or other people.

In this way, the occupational health and safety specialist role is highly varied. These professionals don’t just work to ensure the safety and well-being of an organization’s workers, and prevent any harm from befalling them. Specialists also check that work being done isn’t adversely harming the environment, or the local public.

“Occupational health and safety specialists examine the workplace for environmental or physical factors that could affect employee health, safety, comfort, and performance,” the BLS noted. “They may examine factors such as lighting, equipment, materials, and ventilation. Technicians may check to make sure that workers are using required protective gear, such as masks and hardhats.”

Taking it a step further

In addition to checking the work environment and policies against government regulations and environmental protection standards, specialists will flag the issues they find with the organization’s management. These problems might extend to workers’ health and safety, or problems with environmental factors. Specialists will typically compare the issues they find to the organization’s existing workplace health and safety programs to determine whether or not employees were following proper procedures. From there, specialists may look to adjust these safety programs or further educate employees.

Yet the work of the occupational health and safety specialist is not complete once these issues are brought to the facility management’s attention.

Depending on the industry in which they work and the requirements of their job, some specialists may take their investigations a step further. In addition to flagging problems, these professionals may also work with facility supervisors or organizational managers to help create and deploy new job training programs that address the site’s main issues. These job training efforts will align with the occupational health and safety specialist’s findings, but can be related to important elements like:

  • Best practices for using available safety equipment
  • Policies to control, eliminate, and prevent disease or injury
  • Processes to control, eliminate, or prevent biological agents or other harmful environmental contaminants from impacting the local area or the public
  • Improvements for workers’ health

This means that the occupational health and safety specialist role involves more than just gathering information about a particular working environment and pinpointing any problems. These specialists must also have leadership skills and implement the right training programs to address the particular issues they find.

Other job duties and responsibilities

While the bulk of an occupational health and safety specialist’s job involves inspecting and evaluating working environments and equipment for safety and health standards, there are some other duties these professionals undertake:

  • Prepare written reports for facility managers detailing their findings
  • Collect samples of possibly hazardous materials at worksites and deliver them for testing and analysis
  • Investigate and analyze the cause of workplace accidents or other incidents and help establish related safety procedures to prevent future incidents
  • Conduct job training and employee education, including to demonstrate the proper way to use equipment or follow safety procedures

In order for specialists to be successful in these areas, skills including communication, leadership, and problem solving are critically important.

Man in a hard hat in an industrial setting working on a tablet.

Compensation and job outlook

Currently, the occupational health and safety specialist role is a good career to pursue, as the job outlook is growing about as fast as average for all occupations. Additionally, compensation is competitive.

The BLS forecasts 6-7% growth in the job outlook for this role through 2028. About 6,000 new roles will emerge for trained professionals during this time.

The median annual wage for occupational health and safety specialists was $73,020 as of May 2018. Overall, this career offers a range of salaries, depending on the industry and region in which specialists work, their level of experience, and other factors. The lowest percentage of earners took home about $42,450 in annual wages in 2018, but the highest percentage earned $108,520 or more in some cases.

Specialists operating in manufacturing and state, local, and private hospitals also tended to earn more than those working in scientific or technical services, or for government agencies.

How to become an occupational health and safety specialist

While there are roles available for candidates who hold a bachelor’s degree, many employers now prefer professionals to have a master’s degree in public health, biology, engineering, chemistry, or other related fields.

In addition, the BLS pointed out that some employers also encourage professional certification through the American Board of Industrial Hygiene and/or the Board of Certified Safety Professionals.

Those interested in the occupational health and safety specialist role can begin on their career path by enrolling in an online Master of Public Health like that offered by Regis College. This program can teach students skills and provide them with experience in occupational health and safety, preparing them for employment.

To find out more, check out our website and connect with one of our enrollment advisors today.

 

Recommended Readings:

Crisis & Communication: A Chat with Dr. Frazier Beatty

Where to Find Jobs as a Public Health Educator

 

Sources:

Bureau of Labor Statistics – Occupational Health and Safety Specialists and Technicians

Truity – Occupational Health and Safety Specialist Career Profile | Job Description, Salary, and Growth

Explore Careers – Occupational Health and Safety Expert

Regis College – Online Master of Public Health