Occupational Safety and Health Careers: Jobs and Specializations to Consider
Occupational safety and health has always been a worthwhile career, but the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of the profession for many managers and employees. In the Safety+Health 2022 Job Outlook published by Safety+Health Magazine, the majority of survey respondents agreed that:
- The pandemic increased the general public’s awareness of the OSH profession.
- The pandemic increased the profile of the OSH function within organizations.
- Workers are now more aware of their personal safety and health.
If you’re considering occupational safety and health as a career, we’ve outlined various career paths below, including their typical responsibilities, education and certification requirements, and more.
Occupational Safety and Health Jobs
So, what jobs can you get with an occupational safety and health degree? Safety professionals work in a variety of settings, from offices and hospitals to factories and construction sites. In the Safety+Health 2022 Job Outlook, survey respondents answered which industry they worked in, with the following top results:
- Manufacturing: 25%
- Construction: 22%
- Public Administration/Government: 11%
There are also multiple levels and specializations within the profession. We’ll review some examples, although specific titles can vary depending on the employer, industry and region.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupational safety and health technician positions are considered entry level and are primarily supervisory roles. Technicians are responsible for making sure employees are following safety rules and standards, and they ensure that safety equipment is available and functioning. They also contribute to the development of policies and employee education, helping to make the workplace as safe as possible.
Entry-level OSH technicians typically need a high school diploma, and some are required to have an associate degree or certificate. A common certification for safety professionals at this level is the Associate Safety Professional® offered by the Board of Certified Safety Professionals. The median annual wage for OSH technicians was $51,120 in May 2021, according to the BLS.
In the BLS categories, occupational safety and health specialists are the next level above technicians. OSH specialists may perform some of the same duties as technicians, but their primary focus is developing the safety rules and standards for employees to follow, which the technicians then enforce. Specialists also conduct audits and inspections to ensure a safe working environment, and they lead investigations into accidents or injuries.
Occupational safety and health specialists are typically required to have a bachelor’s degree in OSH or a related field, and a master’s degree may also be required for higher level positions. The BLS reported that in May 2021, the median annual wage for OSH specialists was $77,560.
The Certified Safety Professional® – another certification option offered by the BCSP – is popular for experienced safety specialists. Managers in OSH may also be interested in the Certified Safety and Health Manager® certification offered by the Institute of Hazardous Materials Management.
Engineers also contribute to workplace safety, although these positions are less common and typically require more specialized education. According to the BLS, there were approximately 24,100 jobs for health and safety engineers in 2020 compared to 119,200 jobs for OSH specialists and technicians. Health and safety engineers earned a median annual wage of $99,040 in May 2021, according to the BLS.
Safety engineers design equipment and systems to create the safest possible work environment. In short, they aren’t checking to make sure that employees are wearing proper safety gear, but rather ensuring that the standard safety gear is adequate and that there are controls and processes in place to reduce the potential for injury. This can include modifying workspace layouts, designing specialized equipment, and developing new processes to keep employees safe.
Another specialization within occupational safety and health is known as “industrial hygiene.” Industrial hygienists – who are also known as occupational health professionals, environmental health professionals or other terms – are primarily focused on identifying and addressing chemical, physical, biomechanical, radiation and biological hazards in the workplace.
To become an industrial hygienist, a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, physics, engineering or a biological or physical science is a common requirement, as well as certifications from organizations such as the Board for Global EHS Credentialing.
Finally, another related career field is industrial-organization psychology, commonly known as I/O psychology. I/O psychology is a specialization within the psychology field, but it’s focused on understanding employee behavior in workplace settings with the ultimate goal of improving employee safety and well-being.
I/O psychologists typically start with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and they may also be expected to hold additional advanced degrees or certifications in OSH or even human resources. According to the BLS, industrial-organizational psychologists were some of the highest-paid psychologists overall, earning a median annual wage of $105,310 in May 2021.
To get started in any career in occupational safety and health, education is an important consideration. Here at Columbia Southern University, we’ve been offering degree programs in OSH since our founding in 1993. Today, we offer the following online academic degree programs at the associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree levels for safety professionals:
- A.S. in occupational safety and health.
- B.S. in occupational safety and health.
- B.S. in occupational safety and health, construction safety concentration.
- B.S. in occupational safety and health, fire science concentration.
- B.S. in occupational safety and health, oil and gas concentration.
- M.S. in occupational safety and health.
- M.S. in occupational safety and health, environmental management concentration.
Additionally, our occupational safety and health degree programs meet the educational requirements mandated by the Board of Certified Safety Professionals for the Associate Safety Professional® designation and the Certified Safety Professional® designation. Our B.S. and M.S. in occupational safety and health are Graduate Safety Practitioner® Qualified Academic Programs through the BCSP, allowing graduates to get one step closer to earning their CSP®.
To learn more about our online degree programs for safety professionals, visit our website.
Multiple factors, including prior experience, geography and degree field, affect career outcomes, and CSU does not guarantee a job, promotion, salary increase, eligibility for a position, or other career growth.