How Can I Become an Industrial Hygienist?

Explore the career requirements for industrial hygienists. Get the facts about education and certification requirements, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Healthcare Management & Public Safety Leadership degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Industrial Hygienist?

Industrial hygienists, also known as occupational health and safety specialists, help prevent and mitigate potentially dangerous environmental factors in workplaces by educating businesses, employees, and the public on correct health and safety measures in the workplace. They also help ensure that workplaces don't cause excessive damage to the environment. Their tasks may include identifying potential hazards, collecting samples of toxic substances for analysis, suspending activities which pose a threat to workers, conducting safety training, and investigating workplace accidents. They may design and implement new practices that protect workers from dangerous conditions. This chart provides an overview of what you may expect as an industrial hygienist.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree; master's degree required for some positions
Education Field of Study Industrial hygiene, chemistry, engineering, environmental science, public health
Training Required Internships, on-the-job training, specialized safety training
Certification Voluntary certification is available and preferred by many employers
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 4% increase for all occupational health and safety specialists*
Median Salary (2017) $70,082**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

What Would I Do as an Industrial Hygienist?

As an industrial hygienist, your job would be to prevent and mitigate environmental factors in workplaces that could cause injury or sickness. You could evaluate potential risk factors, recommend safety precautions, implement new protocols, and conduct research on the work environment. Some major workplace hazards that you might encounter include asbestos and lead in older buildings, communicable diseases in large worker populations, and dangerous industrial chemicals. Your duties might vary by the type of workplace you monitor, which could include factories, business offices, outdoor work sites, or government buildings.

What Education Do I Need?

To work as an industrial hygienist, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that a bachelor's degree is the most common educational requirement, though some employers might prefer a master's degree (www.bls.gov). You could qualify for technician or assistant positions with less formal education or on-the-job training. Relevant majors you can select from include industrial hygiene, chemistry, engineering, environmental science, or public health. Coursework in an industrial hygiene program teaches you about chemistry, hazardous materials, environmental and workplace management, toxicology, health issues, and practical instrumentation. Some programs also allow you the opportunity to gain experience through an internship.

What Certifications Would I Need?

Earning certification is optional, though you might be required by your employer to obtain specialized safety training through organizations such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or the American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH). Earning a credential could have minimum education and experience requirements. Some organizations in the industrial hygiene field also offer membership benefits, such as continuing education and access to professional publications.

How Could I Advance My Career?

Earning certification generally demonstrates your ability, knowledge, and professional standing to employers and their employees. However, you might also advance your career by furthering your education through a master's degree program. At the graduate level, several schools offer master's degrees in industrial hygiene and related fields, such as public health or environmental science. You can focus your studies to learn the scientific reasoning and practical techniques involved in your work.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are a few alternative careers related to industrial hygiene. For instance, health and safety engineers work to make sure that consumer products are safe. They generally require a bachelor's degree to gain entry-level employment. Construction and building inspectors also require a bachelor's degree. They inspect buildings to ensure that construction meets legal codes and zoning standards. Occupational health and safety technicians only require a high school diploma as a minimum. They work with other health and safety professionals to assess potential hazards to workers and property.

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