Industrial Hygiene and Occupational Health

If you enjoy science and would like to make the world a safer place, a career in industrial hygiene and occupational health may be a good fit for you. Read on to learn more about employment prospects and educational requirements for health and safety specialists and technicians.

Is a Career in Industrial Hygiene and Occupational Health for Me?

Career Overview

If you were an industrial hygienist or occupational health professional, your job would be to prevent or minimize conditions that are hazardous to people, properties and the environment. Health and safety specialists or technicians inspect worksites and public venues, assess potential dangers and recommend necessary changes. You might also design safer, more efficient workspaces or perform risk analysis for insurance companies.

Required Skills

Industrial hygiene and occupational health workers are detail-oriented, ethical and have a strong understanding of science. Interpersonal and communication skills are important, especially when addressing and enforcing rules and regulations.

Employment and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in May 2013, occupational health specialists earned a median annual salary of $67,960, while health and safety technicians made $47,380 a year. In addition to factories, mines and offices, many specialists and technicians were employed at the federal level or by local and state governments. The BLS also reported that job opportunities were expected to increase by 7% nationwide for occupational health and safety specialists from 2012-2022. An 11% growth in employment was expected for health and safety technicians during the same period (www.bls.gov).

How Can I Work in Industrial Hygiene and Occupational Health?

Educational Requirements

You may be able to obtain a job as an occupational health and safety technician with a high school diploma and experience in the field. Additional requirements include certification or training in regulatory compliance and safety from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), available online or on site at an OSHA regional center (www.osha.gov). Additional credentials and education, such as completion of a graduate program in occupational health and safety, health physics or industrial hygiene may help you advance in the field. At any employment level, you'll need continuing education to stay current on laws and standards, as well as advances in health and safety technology.

Associate Degree Programs

Most occupational health technician jobs require an associate degree in health physics or occupational health and safety. In addition to training in basic occupational health and safety, you'll study hazardous materials management, fire prevention and construction safety. As a qualified graduate, you'll collect data and specimens, measure air or water quality and test machinery and equipment. However, it's important to note that some employers prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree.

Bachelor's Degree Programs

To work as a health and safety specialist, you'll need a bachelor's degree in industrial hygiene, occupational safety, public health or another related science. As an occupational health and safety or industrial hygiene major, you'll learn how to prevent occupational hazards while studying occupational ergonomics, advanced toxicology and aerosol technology.

Successful completion of an undergraduate program can lead to a degree in environmental engineering, environmental biology or chemistry. Once you've qualified for a position, you may conduct inspections, analyze collected data, interview employees and prepare reports; you may also be called upon to testify in court or fine employers who aren't complying with current health standards.

Certification

Credentialing in industrial hygiene is overseen by the American Board of Industrial Hygiene. To become certified, you'll need a bachelor's degree from an accredited school, four years of current experience and references, as well as a passing score on an exam (www.abih.org). Credentialing in occupational health and safety is available through the Board of Certified Safety Professionals, which oversees the exam process for Certified Safety Professionals. Requirements for most credentialing exams typically include education and/or experience in the field (www.bcsp.org). Throughout your career, you'll also have to participate in continuing education to maintain your credential.

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