How to Become an Occupational Health and Safety Specialist

June 27, 2022

A “safe workplace is sound business,” according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The people tasked with ensuring the safety of workplaces, and therefore the soundness of businesses, are known as occupational health and safety specialists. These professionals dedicate themselves to keeping work environments safe for employers, employees, and the community.  

Those interested in pursuing a career as an occupational health and safety specialist can benefit from understanding the job role and the steps to become qualified for it. 

Occupational Health and Safety Specialists Job Description

Occupational health and safety specialists hold a variety of duties and responsibilities. Their primary responsibility is inspecting workplaces for safety and collecting data on how various workplaces function. 

In addition, an occupational health and safety specialist job description involves making sure that employees, as well as their workplace environments, adhere to regulations and meet professional health and safety standards. 

Other typical duties of occupational health and safety specialists include:

  • Inspecting workplace environments and equipment
  • Documenting findings
  • Assessing safety programs
  • Instructing employers and employees about safe and healthy practices
  • Conducting — and in some cases creating — training programs
  • Inquiring into workplace accidents and implementing new strategies to avoid them in the future

Where Do Occupational Health and Safety Specialists Work?

Occupational health and safety specialists are employed in a variety of settings. Typically, they work for a specific organization and travel regularly to its various work sites to perform relevant inspections. Some of the most common industries employing occupational health and safety specialists include:

  • Government
  • Manufacturing
  • Hospitals
  • Scientific and technical industries

The role often requires a full-time commitment. In some cases, the job may require working overtime hours or on the weekends if a health and safety incident or emergency calls for immediate attention. 

Steps to Become an Occupational Health and Safety Specialist

Discovering the specifics of the process of becoming an occupational health and safety specialist can guide the decisions of aspiring candidates who are looking to launch a career in the field. 

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Pursuing a career as an occupational health and safety specialist requires a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree in a field such as engineering, biology, or chemistry can satisfy that requirement.

However, those who decide they want to pursue a career as an occupational health and safety specialist will do well to earn a BS in Occupational Health and Safety Management. This degree is specifically designed to ingrain students with an in-depth understanding of occupational health and safety best practices, effectively preparing them to be competitive in the field. 

Obtain Certification

Though it is possible, in some cases, to work as an occupational health and safety specialist with only a bachelor’s degree, obtaining a certification makes candidates more competitive. Valuable certifications in the field include:

  • The Certified Safety Professional (CSP) Certification
  • The Associate Safety Professional (ASP) Certification
  • The Occupational Health and Safety Technologist (OHST) Certification
  • The Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) Certification

Find out if a degree with Athens State University is right for you.

Develop Skills

Understanding the skills to be a successful and effective occupational health and safety specialist is helpful when pursuing the role. Here are some skills to consider cultivating to become competitive for this position.

Communication

To excel as an occupational health and safety specialist effective communication skills are crucial. If miscommunications or misunderstandings occur, then implementing protocols effectively and ensuring workplace safety will suffer. 

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

Successful occupational health and safety specialists are able to think and analyze quickly and effectively. The role often calls for quick thinking and action, and being able to do this well while under stress is vital.

Attention to Detail

Occupational health and safety specialists need to be able to perceive minute details. This role is responsible for keeping individuals safe, and being able to notice potential hazards before they result in injury is an important attribute. 

Gain Work Experience

For occupational health and safety specialists, on-the-job training is an invaluable source of learning. Though studying will prepare one with a foundational grasp of concepts and practices, work experience will provide one with the skills to actually implement one’s expertise. Different industries will require different things from an occupational health and safety specialist, and gaining work experience can help one both develop their skills and further one’s expertise. 

Occupational Health and Safety Specialist Salary and Growth

The median salary for occupational health and safety specialists and technicians in 2021 was $74,870, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). These roles are projected to grow at a rate of 7% between 2020 and 2030, adding around 8,800 new positions to the job market, per the BLS.

Both location and industry type can influence salary. In May 2021, the BLS reported that occupational health and safety specialists working in the pipeline transportation of crude oil industry earned an annual median wage of $124,620, while those working in Kennewick-Richland, Wash., earned an annual median wage of $111,950.

Discover How a BS in Occupational Health and Safety Management Can Advance Your Career

To be a successful occupational health and safety specialist, it’s important to be able to apply your knowledge to workplaces in a variety of industries. Athens State University’s online BS in Occupational Health and Safety Management allows you the opportunity to develop your skills and gain expertise in health and safety best practices. 

Start your journey to becoming a successful occupational health and safety specialist. 

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Sources:

Board of Certified Safety Professionals, “7 Steps to Safety Certification”

Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs”

Truity, “Occupational Health and Safety Specialist”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages: Occupational Health and Safety Specialists

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

You can get the tools you need to start your career, with Athens State University

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