How to Become a Certified Industrial Hygienist
by: Susan Q. Tolbert, MS
Industrial hygiene is the science of anticipating, recognizing, evaluating and controlling workplace conditions and illness. Environmental monitoring and analytical methods are used to detect the extent of worker exposure. Specifically, industrial hygienists identify particular health hazards within the workplace, such as pesticides, communicable diseases, asbestos, noise and lead. Industrial hygienists are engineers and scientists who protect the safety and health of people in the workforce, and ensure that state and federal regulations are followed.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), industrial hygienists are trained to anticipate, recognize, evaluate and recommend controls for environmental and physical hazards that can affect the health and well-being of workers.” Becoming an industrial hygienist with the skills needed to recognize and abate health hazards requires a combination of education and practical experience.
As an industrial hygienist, your job is to prevent and mitigate potentially dangerous environmental factors in workplaces by educating businesses, employees and the public on which practical and correct actions will ensure the environment in which they are working and living is safe.
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...
The skill sets and knowledge needed for this type of work include chemistry, science, a basic understanding of control technology, monitoring, sampling and analytical techniques. There are many types of organizations that employ individuals with the skills, knowledge and competencies of industrial hygienists, these organizations may include: industrial plants (such as manufacturing, oil and gas, agriculture, transportation and forestry plants), municipal, provincial/state and federal government departments, OSHA consulting firms, public utility companies, insurance companies, labs, hospitals, research institutions, colleges and universities.
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 may prefer a master's degree (www.bls.gov). You may qualify for technician or assistant positions with less formal education or on-the-job training. Coursework in an industrial hygiene program teaches you about chemistry, hazardous materials, environmental and workplace management, toxicology, health issues and practical instrumentation. Some programs allow the opportunity to gain experience through an internship. Educational programs cover chemical properties, toxicology and physiology in sufficient detail for students to understand how to assess and evaluate worker exposure. Programs emphasize science, mathematics, engineering, science-related technology, sampling protocols and instruments used in sampling and monitoring.
There are associate degree programs in occupational health and industrial hygiene. However, in order to become certified you need to earn a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Coursework in specific industrial hygiene programs is interdisciplinary, and includes research, field experience and classroom studies. You will learn about a wide range of topics, such as fire safety, hazard surveillance, chemical safety, biosafety, hazardous waste, hearing conservation, air quality and respiratory protection, to name a few.
Earning a certification in industrial hygiene management generally demonstrates your ability, knowledge and professional standing to employers and their employees. Most industrial hygienists have earned a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in either chemistry, physics, engineering, biological or physical science. Organizations such as the American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH) offer certification programs recognized and accepted by industry experts. Make sure the program you choose is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).
Eligibility to sit for the certification exam requires work experience and a degree. After certification, continuing education is necessary to stay certified.
Choosing to become a certified industrial hygienist is a challenging but rewarding career path. The knowledge and skills you acquire are valuable and necessary to ensure a safe working environment for both employees and the companies they work for. You will also gain the confidence to assist others to ensure optimum health and safety wherever you choose to take your career.
Susan Tolbert, MS, is the safety and risk manager for the City of Concord, N.C. A graduate of Columbia Southern University, she sits on the CSU Safety College Academic Advisory Committee. Tolbert is a proven professional with over 20 years of experience in OSHA, environmental compliance, employee compensation and risk management.