Pros and Cons of a Certified Safety Specialist Career
Certified safety specialists, often called occupational or environmental health and safety specialists, help make sure that people are working in safe environments by collecting samples, inspecting workplaces and making recommendations on how to improve worker safety. Learn more about the pros and cons of a working as a certified safety specialist to determine if you want to pursue this career path.
|Pros of a Certified Safety Specialist Career|
|Decent pay (mean salary was around $70,470 in May 2014)*|
|High job satisfaction (90% say they're 'satisfied' or 'very satisfied')**|
|Opportunities to specialize in areas like ergonomics, environmental safety, occupational safety, industrial hygiene, fire protection safety and loss prevention**|
|Knowledge that you're keeping people safe**|
|Highly respected profession **|
|Cons of a Certified Safety Specialist Career|
|Work conditions and environments may involve health risks*|
|Breaking into this career may be difficult without related work experience*|
|May need to work nights and weekends during emergencies*|
|May require long intervals of being on your feet*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Board of Certified Safety Professionals.
Essential Career Information
As a certified safety specialist, you'll analyze workplaces to make sure they're safe for the employees who work there. Depending on the industry and the facility, you might look for chemical, physical, biological, radiological and/or ergonomic hazards that could endanger employees or negatively affect their productivity. Other aspects of the job may include ensuring companies are compliant with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) safety regulations and investigating workplace accidents. You may also design and teach employee safety programs, as well as provide assistance after emergencies like earthquakes and hazardous materials accidents.
Certified safety specialists work in multiple industries and facilities. Following are just a few types of safety specialists you may become:
- Occupational safety specialists make sure manufacturing and production plants are safe for employees.
- Fire protection engineers work to ensure environments are protected from fires and explosions.
- Ergonomists design workplace facilities, machines, equipment, methods and workstations to minimize employee injuries and accidents.
- Loss control and prevention representatives conduct assessments that help insurance companies determine the acceptable risks and prices to include in their policies. They also work with insurance companies' clients to prevent incidents that could lead to insurance claims.
- Industrial hygienists evaluate and reduce employees' exposure to toxic chemicals and physical hazards.
Salary Info and Job Prospects
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a mean annual wage for occupational health and safety specialists of about $70,470 in May 2014. The highest-paying industry was oil and gas extraction, $95,170, while the most prominent employers were federal and state governments, which represented 20% of the workforce.
As nuclear power gains popularity as an energy source, employers are hiring more safety specialists to ensure employee and environmental protection. New environmental regulations and laws also create a need for safety specialists to make sure companies are compliant. In addition, employers facing rising insurance and workers' compensation costs are hiring certified safety specialists to help prevent workplace-related illnesses and injuries. Despite these factors, the BLS predicted an addition of only 4,200 new occupational health and safety specialist jobs between 2012 and 2022. This translates to a 7% increase in employment, which is slower than the average for all occupations.
What Are the Requirements?
Education Requirements and Career Skills
Most certified safety specialists have bachelor's degrees in areas like occupational safety or industrial hygiene. Other fields commonly studied include biology, chemistry or engineering. Some positions require a master's degree in fields like health physics or industrial hygiene. Curricula vary by specific degree program.
In a typical occupational safety bachelor's degree program, you can expect to take courses in math and science, radiation science, ergonomics, management skills, hazardous waste management and other subjects. Getting hands-on experience is critical in this field. Many programs integrate work experience through internships or cooperative education. Through your coursework and field experiences, developing communication, problem-solving and technical skills will help you succeed in the safety career you decide to pursue. You will learn regulations and inspection procedures specific to your industry or type of facility on the job.
Safety specialists don't have to be certified; however, many employers favor applicants who are. Several professional organizations in this broad field offer certifications specific to your intended safety career. The National Association of Safety Professionals, for example, offers credentials for a variety of safety careers in general industry, the petroleum industry and construction. The Board of Certified Safety Professionals is another certifying body, which offers widely recognized credentials, such as Certified Safety Professional (CSP). To qualify to take certification exams, you typically need to demonstrate some combination of related experience and education. Maintaining your certification typically requires continuing education.
Job Postings from Real Employers
Most employers look for safety specialists who have a relevant degree, related experience and, in many cases, certification. Strong knowledge of health and safety regulations, communication skills and competence in using office software applications are also desirable. To get a better idea of what actual employers are looking for, read the following job postings from June 2012:
- An Iowa aluminum parts manufacturer seeks an environmental health and safety professional to reduce incident and injury risks by implementing safety training programs and monitoring safety regulation compliance. Preferred qualifications include a bachelor's degree in a safety field and professional health and/or safety certifications, like Certified Safety Professional (CSP), Associate Safety Professional (ASP) and Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH).
- A Colorado company seeks an environmental health and safety specialist to ensure regulatory compliance and train staff in safety policies and procedures. Qualifications for this job include a bachelor's degree in occupational safety or a related field and 3 years' related experience, as well as extensive knowledge of health and safety regulations and incident investigation procedures.
- A healthcare products company in Minnesota is looking for a senior environmental health and safety specialist to manage safety training programs, perform safety and incident investigations, provide workplace ergonomics guidance and ensure regulatory compliance. Job requirements include a bachelor's degree in environmental health and safety or a related field, strong computer and communication skills, 5-7 years' relevant experience and CSP certification.
How to Get an Edge
Since applied experience is so important in this field, you may consider volunteering for safety-related tasks where you work. As you gain experience, you'll assume tasks of progressively greater responsibility. Some bachelor's degree programs in safety are available completely online. By working in a safety capacity while completing an accredited safety-related degree program, you can get both the experience and education that employers want. If you plan to enter the safety field by completing an educational program, selecting one with a well-developed internship or cooperative education program can prove advantageous.
Membership in professional organizations related to safety can help you stay abreast of current trends. Typically, these organizations sponsor conferences or symposia, publish journals and provide continuing education courses. Some organizations have student chapters at colleges and universities that offer safety degree programs, through which you may find professional mentors and perhaps valuable internship or job opportunities in your specific area of interest.
Other Careers to Consider
Occupational Health and Safety Technician
If you like the idea of working as a safety professional but don't have the means or inclination to get a bachelor's degree, you may consider becoming an occupational health and safety technician. Technicians work closely with safety specialists and perform similar tasks. Most people enter this career through on-the-job training; alternatively, you can become qualified for this job by earning a certificate or associate degree in occupational safety.
Occupational health and safety technicians typically earn less money than specialists. The BLS estimated that occupational health and safety technicians earned an average salary of about $48,000 in May 2011. Job prospects, however, may be more favorable for occupational health and safety technicians. The BLS predicted a 13% increase in employment between 2010 and 2020, which is faster than the growth predicted for safety specialists.
If you want to work in a profession more focused on saving the environment, you may consider becoming an environmental scientist. Environmental scientists identify threats to the environment and develop solutions to prevent, control and fix them. For an entry-level job, you'll need a bachelor's degree in environmental science or a related natural science field, like geosciences, biology or chemistry. The BLS estimated that environmental scientists earned an average annual wage of about $69,000 in May 2011. Job opportunities for this profession were predicted to increase by a healthy 19% between 2010 and 2020, partly due to the public's growing concern for the environment.