Occupational health and safety specialists typically need a bachelor’s degree. Specialists are trained in the specific laws or inspection procedures through a combination of classroom and on-the-job training.
High school students interested in becoming occupational health and safety specialists should take courses in English, mathematics, chemistry, biology, and physics.
Occupational health and safety specialists typically need a bachelor’s degree in occupational health, safety, or a related scientific or technical field, such as engineering, biology, or chemistry. For some positions, a master’s degree is required in industrial hygiene, health physics, or a related subject.
Typical courses include radiation science, hazardous material management and control, risk communications, and respiratory protection. These courses may vary, depending on the specialty in which a student wants to work. For example, courses in health physics focus on topics that differ from those in industrial hygiene.
Work experience is often important in this occupation. Internships are not required, but employers often prefer to hire candidates who have had one.
Although occupational health and safety specialists learn standard laws and procedures in their formal education, they also need a moderate amount of on-the-job training for specific work environments. For example, all workplaces must meet a certain standard for air quality. However, a specialist who will inspect offices needs different training than a specialist concentrating on factories.
Communication skills. Occupational health and safety specialists must be able to communicate safety instructions and concerns to employees and managers. They need to be able to work with technicians to collect and test samples of possible hazards, such as dust or vapors, in the workplace.
Detail oriented. Occupational health and safety specialists must pay attention to details. They need to recognize and adhere to specific safety standards and government regulations.
Physical stamina. Occupational health and safety specialists must be able to stand on their feet for long periods and be able to travel regularly. Some specialists work in environments that can be uncomfortable, such as tunnels or mines.
Problem-solving skills. Occupational health and safety specialists must be able to solve problems. They need to be able to find solutions to unsafe working conditions and environmental concerns in the workplace.
Technical skills. Occupational health and safety specialists must be able to use advanced technology. They often work with complex testing equipment.
Although certification is voluntary, many employers encourage it. Certification is available through several organizations, depending on the field in which the specialists work. Specialists must have graduated from an accredited educational program and have work experience to be eligible to take most certification exams. To keep their certification, specialists are usually required to complete periodic continuing education.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition