Health and safety workers have a passion for making workplaces safe, both for people and the environment. If you enjoy identifying the right thing to do, and are good at convincing others to do it, this could be a great career for you.
Typical Job Functions
While some of their work is done in an office, entry-level positions spend significant amounts of time in the plant, factory, outdoors, or in a lab to conduct inspections. Travel to other locations may be required to conduct inspections, and long or irregular hours may be required in emergency situations. Health and safety professionals may have to wear uncomfortable personal protective equipment, and they may occasionally work in physically demanding situations.
Specific job functions typically include:
- Inspecting machinery, facilities, laboratories and equipment to identify potential chemical, physical, biological, or radiological hazards
- Collecting and analyzing samples to monitor workplace occupational exposure levels
- Attending continuing education classes to stay current on changing regulations
- Recommending, developing, and delivering safety training for employees
- Monitoring compliance with, and effectiveness of, existing policies and procedures
- Recommending improvements to workplace procedures and employee safety and awareness programs
- Investigating accidents to determine their cause and identify preventive mechanisms
New health and safety professionals generally work under someone more experienced and mainly collect data. As their knowledge and expertise increases, they move into more challenging projects (which may require an advanced degree) and achieve greater independence. Those who start out in the field with an advanced degree will progress faster.
There are many specialties within the chemical safety field. In industry, they are most often found in Environment, Health, and Safety (EH&S) departments.
- Occupational health and safety technicians - Collect samples, take measurements, and conduct tests in the workplace. Also work under the supervision of specialists to help implement and evaluate safety programs.
- Environmental health and safety professionals - Focus on reducing the risk of people developing chemical-related illnesses associated with potentially hazardous chemicals (e.g., lead, asbestos, etc.).
- Chemical hygiene officers - Focus strictly on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Laboratory Standard, which applies to chemical exposure in laboratories.
- Health physicists - Work in laboratories, hospitals, and other places that use radioactive materials, radiation machines, and lasers to protect people and the environment from unwanted exposure to radiation.
- Other members of EH&S departments - Act as advisors to employers, making recommendations to enhance the safety of the workplace.
An associate’s degree or certificate is typical for a technician; a bachelor’s degree is usually required for entry as a specialist (typically in electrical, chemical, mechanical, industrial, or other engineering discipline). Internships are not required, but employers prefer to hire applicants who have real experience.
Training in applicable laws, regulations, and inspection procedures is often accomplished through a combination of classroom and on the job training. There are also a number of professionally-recognized certifications, and they are usually required for management level positions.