Chemical Safety Program Manager, Princeton University
Health and safety professionals assist employers in maintaining a safe workplace and managing environmental issues. They look carefully for practices that may cause harm to employees, property, the environment, or the general public and provide advice on changes that will reduce the chances of adverse incidents that harm the environment or injure a colleague.
There are many specialties within the chemical safety field. In industry, these types of people are most often found in (EH&S) department.
An associate’s degree or certificate is a typical background for a technician, while a bachelor’s degree (typically in electrical, chemical, mechanical, industrial, or another engineering discipline) is generally required for entry as a specialist. Depending on the industry, training in applicable laws, regulations, and inspection procedures is accomplished through a combination of classroom and on the job training. Internships are not required, but employers prefer to hire applicants who have real experience.
There are a number of professionally recognized certifications. Certification requirements vary by state and by industry. Certification is usually based on education, experience, and a formal examination, and it is available from multiple sources depending on the particular field of endeavor. It is usually required for management level positions and is encouraged by many employers.
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. They may have to wear uncomfortable personal protective equipment and sometimes work in physically demanding situations.
New health and safety professionals generally work under more experienced workers and mainly collect data. As their knowledge and expertise increases, they move into more difficult projects with greater independence, which may require an advanced degree. Those who start out in the field with an advanced degree will progress faster.
This field is predicted to grow at an average, or slightly lower than average pace, between 2010 and 2020. Increasingly complex regulations and constant changes mean people with current knowledge are needed, and continuing education is required to remain in this field. However, budget cuts will affect the 40% of these workers employed by local, state, and federal governments.
A career as a health and safety worker requires caring about both people and the environment and having a passion for making the workplace as safe as possible. If you enjoy identifying the right thing, and convincing others to do it, this could be the career for you. However, you must be prepared for the responsibility—you may be accused of being too strict if nothing goes wrong but not strict enough when someone gets hurt.
Since up to 40% of health and safety professionals work for federal, state and local governments, these positions are affected when government funding is reduced. However, EH&S professionals will always be needed to enforce regulations in the workplace and improve conditions for workers.
Entry-level positions include technician (for those with an associate’s degree) or specialists (for those with a bachelor’s degree). Work experience is critical, so internships are strongly encouraged.