Pros and Cons of a Career as a Safety Compliance Officer
The primary goal of a safety compliance officer is to protect workers' safety and overall well being by minimizing hazardous conditions within the workplace. Before deciding to become a safety compliance officer, it's important to understand the pros and cons of this field.
|Pros of a Safety Compliance Officer Career|
|Above-average salary (about $70,470 as of May 2014)*|
|Can increase the safety and well being of others**|
|Can work in many types of industries (insurance, utilities, government, manufacturing)***|
|Variety of day-to-day job duties**|
|Cons of a Safety Compliance Officer Career|
|Some risk when dealing with hazardous conditions*|
|Slower-than-average job growth (7% from 2012-2022)*|
|May work irregular hours in response to emergency situations*|
|Requires technical knowledge in many areas (chemical, physical and biological hazards; laws and regulations; industry operations; technology)**|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Board of Certified Safety Professionals, ***American Industrial Hygiene Association.
A safety compliance officer, also called an occupational safety specialist, is responsible for ensuring a safe, healthy work environment. To achieve this, officers must perform inspections to assess the risks that may threaten workers' safety and health while on the job. They also ensure that workplaces are in compliance with occupational, environmental and health regulations by testing equipment and machines, conducting air quality tests and identifying potential hazards. They may further help design safe work spaces and report on workplace conditions. Some of these professionals may suggest improvements to increase both the safety and efficiency of organizations, such as providing ways to decrease machine downtime or employee absenteeism.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expected a slower-than-average job growth of seven percent for occupational health and safety specialists between 2012 and 2022 (www.bls.gov). Despite sluggish growth, the public demand for safe and healthy working environments should help drive the employment of these workers. Occupational health and safety specialists are also needed to ensure that organizations adhere to new and changing environmental regulations. The BLS stated that more specialists would be needed to deal with the complexity of technological advances and associated risks, particularly with the nation's increased use of nuclear power. Jobs were also expected to grow as the need for emergency preparedness continues to increase.
While salaries for safety professionals vary by industry and experience level, safety compliance professionals tend to earn decent wages that fall above the approximate national mean wage of $70,470, reported the BLS. Occupational health and safety specialists earned a median annual salary just over $69,210. Those specialists who worked for oil and gas extraction companies, had the highest average annual wages, $95,170 per year. However, federal and state governments were the top employers for occupational health and safety specialists, representing a combined 20 percent of the workforce.
What Are the Requirements?
Some safety compliance officers may be able to start out with an associate's degree in safety, health or environmental science. However, most safety and health compliance officer jobs require bachelor's degrees in a relevant scientific or technical field, such as occupational health, industrial hygiene, occupational safety, chemistry or engineering. Jobs with particularly high levels of responsibility may require master's degrees in the field.
In addition to formal training, most safety compliance officers receive on-the-job training to learn about their specific work environments, as well as the laws and regulations that apply to the industry or organization in which they work. They are commonly required to be knowledgeable of the regulations and standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as well (www.osha.gov).
Regardless of the type of degree you pursue, safety compliance coursework should require you to develop expertise in chemistry, biology, physics and technology. Internships can also be an excellent way to gain the experience and skills that employers often look for in candidates. According to job postings from Monster.com, some additional qualifications and skills that are usually needed to become a safety compliance officer include:
- Knowledge of environmental regulations
- At least two years of safety experience
- Relevant certifications
- Strong interpersonal skills
- Physical fitness required to inspect various work settings
Job Postings from Real Employers
Employers may advertise for safety compliance officers, but oftentimes job postings fall under other closely-related titles, such as environmental health and safety compliance officers or safety coordinators. Below are a few job advertisements that real employers posted in April 2012.
- A college in New York wanted an environmental health and safety compliance officer to develop, apply and evaluate safety programs focused on radiation, chemical and waste hazards for its campus. In addition to safety certification, candidates were expected to have good working knowledge of state regulations.
- A corporation based in Virginia advertised for a corporate safety officer to provide on-site safety training and education. Qualifications included completion of OSHA training and certification earned within the past four years. The employer also looked for candidates with knowledge of Microsoft Office and a 4-year degree related to health or safety.
- A Nebraska-based company looked for a safety and compliance officer with good communication and computer skills. Candidates were also expected to stay current with OSHA and Department of Transportation regulations.
- A company in South Carolina posted a job for an environmental health and safety coordinator to inspect and analyze work environments and conduct safety training programs. They wanted a candidate with a bachelor's degree in a relevant field, at least two years of experience, preferably in a manufacturing environment, proficiency in Microsoft Office, strong leadership skills and the ability to lift and climb regularly during site inspections.
- A company in North Carolina sought a safety coordinator with the ability to perform safety audits. Applicants also needed to work under pressure, have knowledge of health and safety computer software and be able to work extended hours.
How Can I Stand Out?
While not mandatory, most employers prefer safety compliance officers who have certification either at the time of employment or soon after hiring. According to the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP), safety professionals also may increase their earning potential by obtaining certification (www.bcsp.org). Several professional organizations offer relevant certifications for workers in the safety field. The BCSP offers the Certified Safety Professional credential, which requires a bachelor's degree or an associate's degree in a relevant safety field, at least three years of safety experience and passing scores on two qualifying exams.
Additional organizations that offer certifications for safety professionals include the American Board of Industrial Hygiene and the National Association of Safety Professionals. For these certifications, you typically must complete a course in your chosen safety specialty and pass an examination.
Certified safety professionals must often renew their certification on a regular basis by earning recertification or continuing education credits. Continuing education can also be a great way to stay abreast of industry changes and demonstrate ongoing development and professionalism in the field. OSHA offers training courses and continuing education credit for certified professionals at all levels, from entry-level employees to supervisors.
Other Careers to Consider
If a job conducting on-site inspections and testing isn't for you, then you might consider a career as a health and safety engineer. While these workers may also test and inspect machinery, they usually focus more on designing and creating procedures and systems that promotes worker safety. A health and safety engineer also ensures that new equipment meets safety requirements and might install safety features on machinery. These workers usually need a bachelor's degree in mechanical or industrial engineering to enter the field. They tend to earn higher wages as well; their median annual salary as of May 2011 was roughly $75,000, according to the BLS.
Alternatively, if working with high-risk chemicals and materials doesn't appeal to you, you might consider becoming a construction and building inspector. The level of education needed to become a construction and building inspector can vary based on the job. While many of these workers learn the necessary skills on the job, employers often look for candidates with some level of formal training, either through a certificate, associate's degree or bachelor's degree program in a related field. Courses in construction technology, drafting and building inspection can be particularly beneficial. According to the BLS, construction and building inspectors earned a median annual salary of about $53,000 as of May 2011.