Responsibilities of A Health and Safety Officer

Pursuing a career as a health and safety officer is making a decision to enter a field ripe for growth and new development. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for qualified health and safety officers is projected to grow by as much as 4 percent over the next decade.

Completing a health and safety management degree also promises a strong financial future, with the average annual salary nationwide (as of 2015) trending in the $70,000 range. Read on to learn more about the educational requirements, coursework and professional and managerial job options for a health and safety officer.

Educational Requirements to Become a Health and Safety Officer
While the occasional exception always exists, most professional health and safety officers today take their health and safety courses under the umbrella of a Bachelor's Degree (4-year degree) or Associates Degree (1-2 year degree) in Occupational Safety or a similar related degree plan with a science or technical background.

Learn More About our OSH DegreesCandidates aspiring to management or executive level jobs in the health and safety field may return to school in the future to gain additional management, financial and leadership skills, although this is not always required for advancement in this direction. With the new range of online, night and weekend degree plans, sometimes candidates begin working in the field of health and safety while they complete their bachelor's degree coursework. As the field of health and safety itself expands and develops, there are also a smaller number of specialty degree plans available, including a specialization in fire safety, occupational safety and environmental management.

A Snapshot of Health and Safety Educational Coursework

Here is an overview of the types of health and safety courses a candidate would enroll in on the path to completing an associates or a bachelor's degree in health and safety.

  • Fundamentals of Health & Safety.
  • Legal Aspects of Health & Safety.
  • Construction Safety.
  • OSHA Standards.
  • Hazardous Materials Interactions/Management.
  • Toxicology.
  • Hygiene in Industrial Industry.
  • Fire Prevention Fundamentals.
  • Ergonomics.
  • Fleet Safety Practices.
  • Risk Management.
  • Safety Supervision.
  • Investigating Accidents.
  • Leadership, Training & Development Principles.

Pursuing a Career in Management

While all managers and executives are expected to have some understanding of the critical role of Health and Safety in the workplace, it is such a specialized and highly regulated field that nearly all companies retain at least one dedicated health and safety management professional to oversee compliance with OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, mandatory requirements for the company itself.

This often includes routine periodic mandatory and optional testing, employee and manager surveys, worksite and office evaluations, ongoing monitoring of field sites, random spot checks and other measures to verify company-wide compliance.

As such, the potential for a qualified and talented health and safety officer to move into a management or executive leadership role is wide open. Approximately 25 percent of management level positions may require a master's degree education or special post-baccalaureate certification.

Interested candidates can often begin building their resume towards a management-level promotion as soon as they accept their first professional job. Activities that can help develop the necessary on-the-job experience to gain access to management-level employment include but are not limited to these:

  • Volunteer to form and/or lead the company's health and safety committee.
  • Review and update the company's Safety Policy and train employees on its implementation.
  • Enroll in continuing education certification coursework, classes or conferences.
  • Develop an employee training series to present at employee Lunch & Learn sessions or training meetings.
  • Make recommendations that improve safety while saving the company funds.

As well, it will be vital to express interest in moving into a management capacity during annual performance reviews and annual employee goal-setting meetings. Volunteering for work projects related to this goal can also assist with internal networking and awareness of upcoming job opportunities within the company.

Industries Seeking Qualified Health and Safety Officer Candidates

Following the federal government's establishment of OSHA, demand for candidates with the appropriate health and safety credentials began to grow.

This is because the ultimate responsibility of a health and safety officer, regardless of industry, is to ensure working conditions within any company or organization provide a safe, healthy work space for all employees.

Because a health and safety officer's job description transcends departments and whole industries, there is much room for creative career growth, lateral movement and also promotion within the field.
The industries most vigorously seeking qualified health and safety officer candidates include these:

  • Construction. 7 percent.
  • Government (city, state, federal). 29 percent.
  • Manufacturing. 16 percent.
  • Technical/scientific/professional. 10 percent.

These four categories alone represent 62 percent of the demand for health and safety officer candidates, with 38 percent coming from other industries. Within the government sector (postal department excepting), there are opportunities for qualified health and safety officers in both civilian and military departments and organizations.

For candidates with a strong interest in government, economics, politics and public policy, there is much room for contributions that improve public safety as well as safety in the private and military sectors.

By pursuing a career in the health and safety industry, candidates gain the ability to contribute productively to the overall safety of all workers in a company, including their own. By continuously monitoring all facilities and processes for healthful, safe business practices and seeking continual improvements in every area, the candidate will gain a working knowledge of each department within a company as well as an overview of how the different departments work together to deliver results.

For health and safety candidates with a particular interest in environmental issues and sustainability, there is much additional work that can be done to reduce any company's carbon footprint, improve public relations and thus bottom line profitability, and at the same time move up the corporate ladder.