Becoming a Health Inspector: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a health inspector career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a health inspector is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Health Inspection

Health inspectors observe and analyze work environments to make sure they align with safety and health regulations. Keep reading to learn more about the pros and cons of becoming a health inspector and decide if it's a good career choice for you.

Pros of Becoming a Health Inspector
High average salary ($70,000 annually)*
High rate of job satisfaction (on average, 90% of inspectors are satisfied with their work)**
Certifications and professional societies available for career development*
Range of possible specializations and work environments*

Cons of Becoming a Health Inspector
Frequent travel may be required*
Risk of exposure to chemicals*
Need to be able to anticipate problems before they occur (evaluating workplace safety)***
May need to wear bulky or uncomfortable safety equipment***

Sources: *The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Board of Certified Safety Professionals, ***O*NET OnLine.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Health inspectors are in charge of observing and analyzing the safety of work environments. As a health inspector, you'll specifically check to make sure that workplaces align with safety and health regulations. You'll identify hazards in a workplace, including chemical and biological threats. You might provide recommendations on how to further increase safety measures in the workplace, or create programs designed to prevent damage to workers and the environment.

Other tasks could include investigating workplace accidents, determining how they happened and how they can be prevented in the future. In addition to preventing harm, your work can contribute to maintaining worker productivity. For example, you might ensure that workspaces are well-lit and equipment is properly maintained.

Career Paths and Specializations

Where you work can vary considerably since occupational health and safety specialists need to inspect places that range from office complexes to mine shafts. You might collaborate with engineers, doctors and technicians in your work. It's possible to specialize in the prevention of certain types of hazards or the safety of particular workplaces. For example, food health inspectors ensure that food products are safe at each step in the supply process, and construction safety specialists work primarily at construction sites.

Other specialties include industrial hygiene, environmental safety, ergonomics, loss prevention and transportation safety. No matter your specific type of health and safety work, you'll likely need to travel frequently, and you could be exposed to dangerous conditions or chemicals.

Salary and Outlook Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), occupational health and safety specialists earned an average of $70,000 in May 2014. The federal government had the highest levels of employment in the industry.

The BLS also predicted employment growth to be slower than average, at 7% from 2012-2022. Job growth should be stronger in the fields of nuclear power and manufacturing than in other health and safety specialties.

Education and Training Requirements

Most specialists have a bachelor's degree in a scientific or technical field. However, degrees in occupational health or safety can also make you qualified. Some positions might require a specialized master's degree in fields like health physics or hygiene. Other positions might require you to be licensed, such as when working as a lead-based paint assessor. Licensing requirements vary by state, but most require passing an exam and meeting certain professional requirements. Other specific training will happen on the job, and all occupational health and safety specialists should have the following general skills:

  • Communication skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Physical strength and stamina
  • Technical and mechanical abilities to work with equipment

What Employers Are Looking for

Employers often prefer to hire college graduates with a few years of experience. They may also look for people who can work with little supervision. Below are health inspector job postings that were available on Careerbuilder.com in April 2012.

  • A Maryland environmental consulting firm is looking for a lead-based paint inspector with 3-5 years of experience. The position requires traveling 50% of the time. Applicants should be able to work independently and have strong computer skills. A high school degree is required, although college graduates are preferred. The ideal candidate needs to be licensed as a paint inspector/risk assessor within 4 months of being hired.
  • A survey company in Colorado advertised for insurance inspectors for contract work. Duties include traveling to the site of insured clients and inspecting property for safety compliance. Applicants with a degree in environmental health or safety are preferred.
  • A staffing firm is seeking a safety specialist for work in Texas. The ideal candidate has 3-5 years of safety experience in the manufacturing industry and is familiar with particular safety standards. Base pay is listed at $55,000-$65,000 per year.
  • A Florida lighting design company advertised for a safety and environmental health specialist. Duties include planning safety tests, managing a hazardous waste program and handling issues pertaining to injured employees. Applicants should have at least 5 years of relevant experience and a bachelor's degree. The posting states that applicants need to be fluent in both English and Spanish.

How Can I Stand Out?

High school students can prepare for postsecondary work by studying English, math and a variety of types of science. Internships during high school and college can provide valuable work experience that can help you land a full-time job later on.

Get Certified

Certifications can increase your professional credibility and might even be required by some employers. The Board of Certified Safety Professionals offers a variety of certifications at different levels and with different professional concentrations, such as construction health technician or loss control specialist. Specialty-specific boards and organizations also offer certification, such as the American Board of Industrial Hygiene. Individuals are generally eligible for certifications based on experience and education. They must also pass an exam.

Other Fields to Consider

If the idea of promoting health and safety in the workplace appeals to you, you could pursue a career as a health and safety engineer. Rather than inspecting sites for safety violations, you would work mostly in an office designing solutions for possible safety and health problems. For this job, you will need to have a bachelor's degree. The BLS reports that job growth is expected to be average (13%) from 2010-2020, and the average earnings were $79,000 in May 2011.

You could also consider becoming a construction and building inspector, where you would review construction plans and monitor the safety of interior systems, city infrastructure and construction projects to ensure compliance with laws and regulations. A high school diploma is the minimum requirement, though many have completed at least some postsecondary coursework. You can specialize in many types of inspection. According to the BLS, job growth is expected to be average (18% between 2010-2020), and construction and building inspectors earned an average salary of $55,000 per year in May 2011.

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