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How to Get Started in Occupational Safety and Health

The occupational safety and health field ensures that organizations maintain safe environments for their workers. Professionals in this field are essential to organizations' efforts to adapt to the current circumstances and modify safety protocols and the work environment.

For those interested in careers in the safety field, Southeastern Oklahoma State University offers an online Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Occupational Safety and Health. This program gives degree candidates opportunities to study essential aspects of the field, as well as coursework geared toward specialized professional applications. It prepares students to assume one of many public and private sector occupational safety and health (OSH) roles.

What Level of Education or Certification Do I Need to Work in This Field?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs in occupational safety and health generally require a bachelor's degree in the field or in a related technical or scientific field. The BLS reports that employers may require related certifications, such as the Certified Safety Professionals (CSP) certification from the Board of Certified Safety Professionals.

Southeastern's online B.S. in Occupational Safety and Health meets the educational requirements for most jobs in the field. This degree program also meets BCSP's Qualified Academic Program (QAP) standards, automatically giving graduates BCSP's Graduate Safety Practitioner (GSP) designation. This designation allows practitioners to bypass the Associate Safety Professional (ASP) examination requirement when applying for BCSP's full CSP certification.

Experience in the field is a job requirement for most mid- and high-level positions. Southeastern's program includes an internship elective that allows students to apply what they learn in real-world situations. Since the program is fully online, occupational safety and health professionals can continue working while earning their degree, which will develop both the training and the experience that employers are looking for.

What Do Occupational Safety and Health Professionals Do?

Federal agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and state Occupational Safety and Health offices set and enforce guidelines and regulations. This guides and helps occupational safety and health professionals in preventing workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities.  

Safety professionals who work in the regulatory public sector may be responsible for researching and creating occupational safety and health policies, regulations and guidelines or serve as inspectors, evaluating organizations' safety regulation compliance. Non-regulatory public sector professionals might work at setting and maintaining safety and health protocols for those entities, training staff on safety measures, and advising leadership.

Companies in all industries also employ occupational safety and health professionals or contract with consultants to manage safety procedures, training, regulation compliance and risk management. This can involve an array of responsibilities, from testing air quality and overseeing hazardous waste removal to evaluating safety equipment and practices in the workplace.

What Kinds of Jobs Are Available in Occupational Safety and Health?

Occupational safety and health specialists find employment in a variety of industries, such as manufacturing, distribution, food processing, construction, oil and gas, wind energy, insurance and government agencies, to name a few. They may work as consultants or for private occupational safety and health consultancy firms. According to BLS, the median pay for occupational health and safety specialists and technicians in 2020 was $72,530 per year.  

Industrial hygienists fill a specialized role in the safety and health field. They are mainly concerned with the "control of environmental stresses or occupational health hazards that arise as a result of or during the course of work."(Plog B.A., 2012). They reduce health risks through practices like inspecting and evaluating levels of contaminates within the workplace, educating and training employees, advising leadership on risk mitigation and ensuring regulatory compliance. Salary.com reports the median salary for industrial hygienists as $88,475, as of May 2021.

Other specialists in the occupational safety and health field focus on helping their organizations create environments that improve the overall health and well-being of employees. This, in turn, can improve job satisfaction and productivity while reducing turnover.

An ergonomist is a good example of an industrial hygienist role. Ergonomists analyze the workplace environment and employee behavior, focusing on the human body, health and safety. Ergonomists modify aspects of that environment, such as the equipment employees use or how they use it. Their goals involve reducing injuries along with improving efficiency and employee comfort. Ergonomists make an average yearly salary of $76,457 according to May 2021 data from PayScale.

The field of occupational safety and health offers a wealth of career opportunities. Major catastrophes like the fertilizer explosion in West, Texas, the collapse of the New York City Twin Towers, and the global pandemic have called attention to the importance of safety and health in the workplace. With a comprehensive education and experience in the field, OSH professionals can fill many vital roles in the effort to keep the American workforce safe and healthy.

Learn more about Southeastern Oklahoma State University's B.S. in Occupational Safety and Health online program.


Sources:

BCSP: Certified Safety Professional

BCSP: Qualified Academic Programs

Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP): Graduate Safety Practitioner

PayScale: Average Ergonomist Salary

Plog, B. A., Niland, J., Quinlan, P. J., (2012). Fundamentals of industrial hygiene. National Safety Council. Itasca, Illinois.

Salary.com: Industrial Hygienist Salary in the United States

StudentScholarships.org: Occupational Health and Safety Specialists - What They Do

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


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