Health and safety engineers develop procedures and design systems to keep people from getting sick or injured and to keep property from being damaged. They combine a knowledge of health or safety and of systems engineering to make sure that chemicals, machinery, software, furniture, and other products are not going to cause harm to people or buildings.
Health and safety engineers typically do the following:
Health and safety engineers also investigate industrial accidents, injuries, or occupational diseases to determine their causes and to see whether they could have been or can be prevented. They interview employers and employees to learn about work environments and incidents leading up to accidents or injuries. They also evaluate the corrections that were made to remedy violations found during health inspections.
Health and safety engineers are also active in two related fields: industrial hygiene and occupational hygiene.
In industrial hygiene, they focus on the effects of chemical, physical, and biological agents. They recognize, evaluate, and control these agents to keep people from getting sick or injured. For example, they might anticipate that a particular manufacturing process will give off a potentially harmful chemical and recommend either a change to the process or a way to contain and control the chemical.
In occupational hygiene, health and safety engineers investigate the environment in which people work and use science and engineering to recommend changes to keep workers from being exposed to sickness or injuries. They help employers and employees understand the risks and improve working conditions and working practices. For example, they might observe that the noise level in a factory is likely to cause short-term and long-term harm to workers and recommend ways to reduce the noise level through changes to the building or by having workers wear strong headphones.
Health and safety engineering is a broad field covering many activities. The following are specific types of health and safety engineers:
Aerospace safety engineers work on missiles, radars, and satellites to make sure that they function safely as designed.
Fire prevention and protection engineers design fire prevention systems for all kinds of buildings. They often work for architects during the design phase of new buildings or renovations. They must be licensed, and they must keep up with changes in fire codes and regulations.
Product safety engineers investigate the causes of accidents or injuries that might have resulted from the use or misuse of a product. They propose solutions to reduce or eliminate any safety issues associated with products. They also participate in the design phase of new products to prevent injuries, illnesses, or property damage that could occur with the use of the product.
Systems safety engineers work in many fields, including aerospace, and are moving into new fields, such as software safety, medical safety, and environmental safety. These engineers take a systemic approach to identify hazards in these new fields so that accidents and injuries can be avoided.
For information on health and safety engineers who work in mines, see the profile on mining and geological engineers.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition