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How to Become an Occupational Health and Safety Specialist – Career Sidekick

Occupational Health and Safety Specialist 5 Steps to Career

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

The first step towards becoming a qualified occupational health and safety specialist is to earn a bachelor’s degree. Most employers require occupational health and safety specialists to have a bachelor’s degree at a minimum. There are many different bachelor’s degree programs that can prepare you for this career, such as occupational health and safety, industrial hygiene, environmental health, or public health.

Do I Need a Degree to Become an Occupational Health and Safety Specialist?

Yes, a bachelor’s degree is needed to become an occupational health and safety specialist. It is the minimum requirement to land a job as an OHS specialist. There are even instances where the minimum requirement is a master’s degree.

Why Is It Important to Get A Degree In Occupational Health and Safety?

A degree program provides in-depth knowledge and understanding of occupational health and safety principles, regulations, and best practices. It equips students with the necessary expertise to address workplace hazards and promote safety effectively.

Further, an occupational health and safety degree serves as a credible qualification that validates a specialist’s competence in the field. It demonstrates to employers that the individual has undergone formal education and training, making them more desirable candidates for job opportunities.

Many employers prefer candidates with formal education in occupational health and safety. Having a degree can open doors to a wider range of job opportunities and career advancement in the field. Some degree programs may incorporate international safety standards and practices, providing a broader understanding of safety issues on a global scale. This knowledge is beneficial for specialists working in multinational organizations or considering international career opportunities.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Degree in Occupational Health and Safety?

The time required to bag a degree in occupational health and safety varies depending on the level of degree the student is pursuing, the type of school, and whether they are attending school on a full-time or part-time basis. Nevertheless, below are some general time frames you can use as a yardstick.

  • Associate’s Degree: An associate’s degree in Occupational Health and Safety or a related field usually takes about two years of full-time study to complete. Some students may choose to attend school part-time, which could extend the time to completion.
  • Bachelor’s Degree: A bachelor’s degree in occupational health and safety typically takes around four years of full-time study to complete. This is the most common degree level for those aiming to become occupational health and safety specialists.
  • Master’s Degree: If you decide to pursue a master’s degree in Occupational Health and Safety or a related field, it typically takes 1 to 2 years of full-time study beyond the bachelor’s degree. Part-time options may be available, but it will take longer to complete.

How Much Does it Cost to Get a Degree in Occupational Health and Safety?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all cost for getting a degree in occupational health and safety. The cost varies based on multiple factors. Factors like the degree level and the school type could potentially affect the cost of your degree program.

According to College Tuition Compare, the tuition and fee for undergraduate degrees in  Occupational Safety and Health Technology range between US$9,753 and US$20,872. Similarly,  the tuition and fee for graduate programs cost between US$11,973 and US$18,723.

This estimate does not include sundry expenses like books and supplies. Thus, the total cost could be potentially higher than the figures given. Students can explore various scholarship and financial aid opportunities available to those studying occupational health and safety technology to offset some of these costs.

Can I Become an Occupational Health and Safety Specialist Through Online Education?

Yes, you can become an occupational health and safety specialist through online education. Many reputable universities and colleges offer fully accredited online occupational health and safety programs or related fields.

When considering the online route,  it’s important to note that some occupational health and safety programs may require hands-on experiences, such as internships or practical training, which might not be entirely feasible in an online format. In such cases, institutions may offer blended programs that combine online coursework with in-person components for practical training.

What are Some Web Resources to Learn Skills to Become an Occupational Health and Safety Specialist?

There are several web resources where you can learn skills and gain knowledge to become an occupational health and safety specialist. These online platforms offer courses, tutorials, articles, and other materials that cover various aspects of occupational health and safety. Here are some recommended web resources:

  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): The official website of OSHA provides a wealth of information on workplace safety regulations, guidelines, and resources. It offers training materials, e-learning modules, and publications that can help you understand the standards and practices in occupational health and safety.
  • National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH): NIOSH, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), focuses on research and recommendations for workplace safety and health. Their website offers valuable research papers, publications, and resources related to various industry sectors and hazards.
  • National Safety Council (NSC): NSC offers online training programs covering a wide range of safety topics, including workplace safety. They provide certifications for various safety roles and offer courses suitable for aspiring occupational health and safety specialists.
  • Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM): While not exclusively focused on occupational health and safety, SHRM provides valuable resources on workplace health and safety from a human resources perspective. It covers topics like employee wellness, safety policies, and compliance.

Gain Work Experience

With your bachelor’s degree in the bag, it’s time to gain hands-on experience. For this, there are two paths. You can either look for internship roles or entry-level roles. Either way, working in an organization where you can hone your skills and gain the experience needed to further your career is important.

What Are Internship Opportunities for an Occupational Health and Safety Specialist?

Internships offer valuable opportunities to work under the guidance of experienced professionals and get real-world exposure to occupational health and safety practices. As an up-and-coming occupational health and safety specialist, your internship opportunities include:

  • Manufacturing Companies: Manufacturing industries have a strong focus on safety to prevent workplace accidents and ensure compliance with safety regulations. Internships in manufacturing companies may involve conducting safety inspections, assisting in accident investigations, and participating in safety training programs.
  • Construction Companies: Construction sites present unique safety challenges, making them ideal places for Occupational Health and Safety internships. Interns can learn about hazard assessments, personal protective equipment (PPE) usage, and construction safety regulations.
  • Healthcare Facilities: Hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities prioritize the safety of patients, staff, and visitors. Occupational Health and Safety internships in healthcare settings can involve understanding infection control, ergonomic assessments, and emergency response protocols.
  • Government Agencies: Local, state and federal government agencies often have Occupational Health and Safety departments that oversee safety regulations and enforcement. Interning with these agencies can offer exposure to safety policy development and regulatory compliance.
  • Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) Departments: Many large corporations have dedicated EHS departments that focus on workplace safety and environmental protection. Interning with these departments can expose you to comprehensive safety management systems.

What Skills Will I Learn as an Occupational Health and Safety Specialist?

To fully develop into a successful occupational health and safety specialist, it is crucial to have certain skills. These skills are discussed below.

  • Risk Assessment and Hazard Identification: You will learn how to identify potential workplace hazards and conduct thorough risk assessments. This skill will enable you to address safety concerns and implement appropriate control measures proactively.
  • Regulatory Compliance and Legal Awareness: Occupational health and safety specialists must stay updated with relevant safety regulations and standards. You will learn to interpret and apply these laws to ensure that workplaces comply with the necessary safety guidelines.
  • Accident Investigation and Root Cause Analysis: In the unfortunate event of an accident, you will gain skills in conducting comprehensive accident investigations to determine the root causes. This knowledge will assist in devising effective preventive measures to minimize future incidents.
  • Safety Program Development and Implementation: You will acquire expertise in creating tailored safety programs that align with the unique needs of organizations. This includes developing safety policies and procedures and conducting engaging training sessions for employees.
  • Emergency Response Planning and Crisis Management: occupational health and safety specialists must be well-prepared to handle emergencies. You will learn to develop robust emergency response plans, conduct drills, and coordinate crisis management efforts to safeguard employees’ well-being.
  • Ergonomics and Workplace Design: Understanding ergonomic principles will equip you to evaluate workspaces and tasks, ensuring they are designed to maximize efficiency and minimize the risk of musculoskeletal disorders.
  • Effective Communication: As a Safety Specialist, clear and concise communication is crucial. You will learn to effectively communicate safety guidelines, regulations, and procedures to employees, management, and other stakeholders. Your training sessions will be informative and engaging, fostering a safety-conscious culture within organizations. Additionally, as workplaces become more diverse, being culturally aware and sensitive will facilitate effective safety management in a global context.
  • Data Analysis and Reporting: You will develop skills in analyzing safety data and trends to identify patterns and areas for improvement. Creating informative safety reports will be essential to communicate insights and recommendations to management and regulatory authorities.
  • Problem-Solving and Decision-Making: Critical thinking skills will enable you to assess safety challenges and make informed decisions promptly. Your ability to prioritize tasks and implement effective solutions will be essential in maintaining a safe work environment.

Get Additional Training

While your degree program and internship/entry-level positions introduce you to the basics of occupational safety, there’s still more to learn. Thus, it is important to get additional training like the ones the Occupational Safety and Health Administration offers. OSHA offers outreach training courses on basic hazard awareness. It also offers occupational safety and health training through authorized education centers.

Get Certified

You should obtain relevant certifications during or after your internship to enhance your qualifications and credibility. There are quite a number of certifications available to you. These certifications are often offered by professional organizations and accrediting bodies that specialize in occupational health and safety. Thus, it is important to assess the ones relevant to your career trajectory. Here are some examples of certifications you should consider:

  • Certified Safety Professional (CSP): Offered by the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP), the CSP certification is one of the most recognized and widely sought-after credentials in the field. It demonstrates a high level of knowledge and experience in safety management, risk assessment, and hazard control.
  • Associate Safety Professional (ASP): Also offered by the BCSP, the ASP certification is designed for individuals who are just starting their careers in safety. It provides a solid foundation of safety knowledge and serves as a stepping stone to the CSP certification.
  • Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH): Offered by the Board for Global EHS Credentialing, the CIH certification is for professionals specializing in industrial hygiene and workplace health hazards.
  • Construction Health and Safety Technician (CHST): Also provided by the BCSP, the CHST certification focuses on construction safety and is intended for individuals working in the construction industry.
  • Advanced Safety Certificate Program: Offered by the National Safety Council (NSC), this program helps professional safety specialists to build upon their knowledge of compliance requirements to further their safety education.

Consider a Master’s Degree (Optional)

Usually, a bachelor’s degree and relevant certifications suffice to secure occupational health and safety specialist roles. However, a master’s degree offers you a chance to further broaden your knowledge and advance your career in this field.

Earning a master’s degree also comes with the extra perk of finding fellow professionals and networking opportunities within the occupational health and safety community. Graduate programs often bring together students from diverse backgrounds and experiences, all seeking to expand their knowledge and expertise in the field.

These academic settings create an ideal environment for building a strong professional network. Interacting with classmates, professors, and industry experts can lead to valuable connections that can last throughout your career. Group projects, discussions, and workshops allow you to exchange ideas, share best practices, and gain insights from different perspectives.


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