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A career as an occupational health and safety specialist can be rewarding and provide a sense of fulfillment in the knowledge that you are working to protect people and property. The profession should also be rewarding in terms of salary and employment outlook.
Occupational health and safety specialists help to create safe working conditions for employees, companies, property, the environment, and the public. They often work with organizations and companies to develop, implement, and monitor safety plans based on the type of industry involved. Occupational health and safety specialists are often hired to examine current practices of an industry or company, then to identify potential hazards that may exist now, or in the future. Once hazards or potential safety issues are identified, a plan to rectify the problem or potential problem is developed and put in place.
Occupational health and safety specialists also examine and test equipment to ensure that it is safe to use and being operated in the correct manner. Occupational health and safety specialists may also investigate work related accidents involving people or property to identify safety policies that were not being followed or to arrive at policies that should be followed in the future.
If you are interested in becoming an occupational health and safety specialist you should enjoy being around people as you may be working with employees and management at numerous companies. You may be composing reports so the ability to write clearly and basic computer literacy is helpful. The ability to be assertive can also be very helpful, as your job requires you to insist that certain safety policies be followed, even when management and employees may prefer otherwise.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median salary for an occupational health and safety specialist was $62,250 for 2008, and the highest 10 percent made over $93,620. Professionals who worked in scientific and technical settings or with computers had the highest earning potential.
Training and Education
Most employers require a bachelor's degree in a relevant field such as engineering, biology, or chemistry. If you are a high school student considering this field it would be helpful to have courses in English, mathematics, chemistry, biology, and physics. An advanced position may require a master's degree. Many schools and universities offer undergraduate and graduate courses that can assist you in pursuing this career.
In addition many occupational health and safety specialists find it helpful to receive certification in their specialties. There are a number of professional organizations that offer certification programs in specific fields of the industry. While certification is typically not required, many employers consider it to be very desirable. Becoming certified usually requires experience in the field, passing an examination, and continuing your education in that particular area of expertise.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that in 2006 there were approximately 56,000 people working in positions classified as occupational health and safety specialists. Approximately 2 out of every 5 positions were with a government agency. Hospitals, colleges and universities, insurance companies, and the manufacturing industry employed many of the rest.
Employment as an occupational health and safety specialist is expected to increase at a modest rate of 9 percent between 2006 and 2016. There is a growing demand for these specialists due to the increasing costs of liability and workers compensation insurance for companies and institutions. However trends towards decreasing regulations may limit job growth.