The Role of the Safety Manager
in Environmental Industries

By Jeffery Kay

Workers in all types of industries expect their work environment to be designed and maintained so they can perform their jobs in a safe manner, free from the risk of preventable hazards. The role of an occupational health and safety professional is to identify, prevent and control health and safety hazards related to the work processes and the work environment within many different industries. They promote health and safety within organizations by developing safer, healthier and more efficient work processes, as well as assisting in the design and maintenance of the physical environment. Every work environment has the potential for an accident to occur that could cause harm to an employee. Occupational safety and health professionals may be found in manufacturing, agriculture, business, healthcare, construction and also in local, state and federal government agencies.

learn more about osh degreesThe occupational safety and health professional is called upon to assess a broad spectrum of potential hazards within the work environment. Injury to workers may occur due to chemical, radiological or biological exposure, crushing hazards, falls, fire, workplace violence or repetitive motion, to name a few.

The responsibilities of a safety professional may include:   

  • Designing programs and creating policies for safe work practices
  • Recommending equipment designed to improve ergonomic function
  • Completing occupational safety inspections to identify hazards and assess compliance with safety policies and procedures
  • Evaluating compliance by employers to laws, regulations and policies that protect workers' health and safety
  • Monitoring of building construction and renovation to ensure that building codes, ordinances, and zoning regulations are in compliance
  • Overseeing the work environment for observance of local and state fire codes
  • Designing safe work spaces
  • Inspecting machines for potential safety hazards
  • Testing air quality and recommendation of respiratory protection as needed
  • Training employees on safety policies and procedures
  • Directing accident investigations
The education level required of a safety professional varies depending on responsibility, with an associate degree as a minimum, and a bachelor’s or master’s degree preferred.

To fulfill their responsibilities, the occupational safety and health professional is required to interpret regulations from a wide array of different government agencies such as: the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), as well as many others. The safety professional will also analyze standards from various standard-generating organizations such as: the International Standards Organization (ISO), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the Joint Commission (TJC), and many others.

The diverse responsibilities of the safety professional require a broad base of knowledge and expertise. The two ways to obtain this knowledge are through experience and education. Experience provides valuable insight into the application of safety principles and guidelines, but alone is unable to provide the depth of knowledge needed to function at the high level required by the workforce of today. The education level required of a safety professional varies depending on responsibility, with an associate degree as a minimum, and a bachelor’s or master’s degree preferred. The ability to manage the competing priorities of school, work and family can be overwhelming to the adult learner seeking to advance their education. The online learning environment is a viable option for safety professionals for many reasons. It allows individuals who are currently working to maintain their employment as they pursue a degree. Online learning allows the learner to complete their education at times that fit within their work and family schedules at an affordable cost. It also allows the adult learner to leverage their experience in occupational safety and health in their educational pursuits. Application of the educational material that the student is currently learning to current work scenarios will enhance both their current work practices and the educational experience for the student.
Jeffrey Kay is currently the safety officer/director of accreditation, safety, emergency management and infection prevention for Sparrow Health System. He has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a Master of Science in Occupational Safety and Health from Columbia Southern University. He has over 30 years of experience in the occupational safety and health field and is certified by the National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF) as a Certified Professional in Patient Safety (CPPS).