Careers and Job Ideas: Industrial Safety and Health Technicians

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QUICK FACTS

  • School Subjects: Health, Technical/shop
  • Personal Skills: Helping/teaching; Leadership/management
  • Work Environment: Primarily indoors; Primarily one location
  • Minimum Education Level: Associate’s degree
  • Salary Range: $25,240 to $42,160 to $100,000+
  • Certification or Licensing: Voluntary
  • Outlook: About as fast as the average
  • DOT: 168
  • GOE: 04 04 02
  • NOC: 2263
  • O*NET-SOC: 17-2111.01, 29-9011.00, 29-9012.00

OVERVIEW

Industrial safety and health technicians are part of a management team of an industrial plant. Their job is to make the workplace as safe as possible. Industrial safety and health technicians take direction from plant managers, industrial engineers, and government agencies to verify that machinery and the physical plant meet established safety codes. They make sure that workers understand required safety procedures, and they also work to ensure workers’ compliance with these important safety measures.

HISTORY

In the 18th century, when the industrial revolution began, waterpower and steam-driven machines made mass production possible. The primary objective then was to achieve high production rates. Safety on the job was often considered the responsibility of the worker, not the employer.

By the beginning of the 20th century, working conditions had vastly improved. Workers and employers found that the cost of injuries and the loss of production and wages from industrial accidents were very expensive to both parties. Industry owners and labor leaders began to use safety engineering methods to prevent industrial accidents and diseases.

The combined efforts of business, government, and labor organizations resulted in increased safety awareness and much safer and healthier working environments. Industrial safety engineers and industrial hygienists studied accidents and learned how to make workplaces safer for employees, leading to the development of industrial safety standards and practices.

With the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) in 1970, highly developed and accepted standards for safety and health in the workplace became the legal responsibility of employers. Many large industrial companies with established safety programs hired safety and health technicians to make sure that their operations met OSHA requirements. Failure to meet OSHA requirements would result in fines, After this legislation, companies large and small that had no formal safety programs hired safety professionals and enacted programs to ensure OSHA compliance. Insurance companies expanded their loss-control consulting staffs, and the number of independent safety consulting firms increased because many small businesses needed informed and reliable help to make their workplaces safe under the law.

The demand for trained safety and health personnel increased accordingly. Today, continued public support and concern for occupational safety and health has made it clear that there is a need for broadly educated, specially trained, and highly skilled industrial safety and health technicians.

THE JOB

There were 4.2 million cases of nonfatal work-related sickness or injury in the United States in 2005, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 1.2 million of these cases were serious enough to cause at least one lost workday. Many cases involve far more time lost from work and sometimes even death. In 2005, 5,702 fatal work injuries occurred. It is the task of the industrial safety and health staff, including technicians, to prevent on-the-job accidents and illnesses.

Industrial safety and health technicians work for many kinds of employers. These include manufacturing industries and businesses, construction and drilling companies, transportation, mining, and other industrial employers, and medical, educational, and scientific institutions. Experienced industrial safety and health technicians may work as instructors with programs for training safety personnel, in federal, state, and local government agencies, insurance firms, and safety consulting firms.

These technicians usually work as members of a team directed by a safety engineer or the head of the engineering department. Many times, the team works relatively independently, following safety plans drawn up by engineers or outside consultants. Depending on their backgrounds, experience, or the nature of the workplace, industrial safety and health technicians may be asked to assume responsibility for safety within a given department, a single site, or several locations.

The work of these technicians is typically a combination of three general activities. The first is to communicate safety consciousness and teach safety practices to employees. Their second duty is to perform on-the-job inspections and analyze potential safety and health hazards in the workplace. Thirdly, technicians write reports, keep records, work with engineers to design safeguards, study ways to improve safety, and communicate suggestions to supervisors.

Safety and health technicians are usually expected to work with the personnel department to organize, schedule, and conduct safety instruction sessions for new workers. Most of the instruction sessions for new employees involve orientation and tours through the areas where they will work. Tours include explanations of the safeguards, safety rules, protection systems, hazards, safety signs, and warnings. They also cover any work rules regarding safety shoes, clothing, glasses, hard hats, and other safety regulations.

These instructional duties are among the technician’s most important activities. Understanding and avoiding the actions that cause injury in the first place is more effective than simply reacting to workplace illnesses and accidents after they happen.

Potential hazards in the workplace that are monitored by technicians include airborne health hazards, such as dusts, mists, fumes, and gases; physical hazards, such as noise, vibration, extreme temperatures, and pressure; and mechanical and electrical hazards such as unguarded machinery or improperly grounded or insulated equipment. Technicians also review facilities, checking working surfaces, fire protection systems, sanitation facilities, and electricity and water utilities.

More specialized tasks performed by industrial safety and health technicians cover many areas. They conduct periodic workplace investigations to discover and define substances, conditions, and activities that may contribute to the contamination of a work environment. Technicians review safety evaluation reports from state and insurance inspectors, worker committees, or management to help coordinate actions needed to correct hazards. They also inspect and maintain records on safety equipment, arranging for any necessary repairs.

Technicians may review operating, maintenance, and emergency instructions to be sure that they are adequate and timely. They assist in accident and injury investigations and maintain follow-up records to make sure that corrective actions were taken after an incident.

They recommend to their supervisors ways to improve the company’s safety and health performance record and work with management to create a more effective safety policy. This may involve studying current safety reports and attending industrial safety and health conferences, Technicians also maintain records of the company workers’ compensation program and OSHA illness or injury reports. These duties are coordinated with the company’s personnel and accounting departments.

In companies with large safety and health staffs, the work of technicians may be more specialized. For example, they may only conduct inspections and design safeguards to prevent accidents. In smaller companies, the beginning technician may be considered the safety engineer, responsible for an entire occupational safety program that has been prepared by an outside consultant.

REQUIREMENTS

High School

While in high school, take classes that will prepare you for a two-year industrial safety and health program at a technical or community college. Recommended courses include English with special emphasis on writing and speech, algebra, and science classes with laboratory study. Other valuable courses are computer science, shop, and mechanical drawing.

Postsecondary Training

A two-year program for industrial safety and health technicians involves intensive classroom study with equally intensive laboratory study. In fact, students will typically spend more time in the laboratory than the classroom.

The first year of study usually includes fundamentals of fire protection, safety and health regulations and codes, advanced first aid, and record keeping. The second year typically covers industrial chemical hazards, materials handling and storage, environmental health, sanitation and public health, and disaster preparedness.

If you plan to advance from the position of technician, a four-year degree is recommended. According to the Board of Certified Safety Professionals, more than 90 percent of those in industrial safety positions have earned a bachelor’s degree. Though many major in safety, others pursue degrees in engineering, science, or business, Certification or Licensing The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Amen can Society of Safety Engineers provide safety training programs to corporate employees and to the general public. After course completion, participants receive an official certificate.

The Board of Certified Safety Professionals offers the designation certified safety professional (CSP) to eligible candidates. Though not required, certification has many advantages. For example, a recent salary survey reported that safety professionals with the CSP designation earned 15 to 20 percent more than those who were not certified.

The American Board of Industrial Hygiene also offers the certified industrial hygienist and certified associate industrial hygienist designations. Candidates must have training and education in the field of industrial hygiene, complete an application, and pass a written examination.

Other Requirements

Physical requirements for this career include strong eyesight and adequate physical strength and coordination. Color blindness can be a limiting factor because most factories or industrial plants have color-coded wiring and piping systems. Adequate hearing is needed to interpret normal and abnormal sounds in the workplace that might indicate potential health or safety hazards.

Technicians must be able to make careful, systematic, step-by-step analyses of possible industrial accidents or illness in many different kinds of workplaces. As a result, they should be patient, detail oriented, and thorough in their work. Careful inspections protect the health and lives of hundreds of workers.

EXPLORING

To learn more about the career, talk to a career guidance counselor about your interest in the safety professions. He or she may have advice on how to research the job, visit a plant, or meet with a working industrial safety and health technician. If you live near a community college with a safety and health program, visit its career information center, library, and counseling staff to learn more about the career.

Local OSHA offices and sections of the National Safety Council can also provide excellent information about this career. Safety publications, such as Safety+Health magazine (http://www.nsc.org), also provide information about occupational safety.

Summer or part-time work in manufacturing or warehousing can introduce you to the environments in which you might eventually work. Learning on-the-job safety and health rules in a factory, plant, or other workplace serves as good experience.

EMPLOYERS

According to the Board of Certified Safety Professionals, 32 percent of safety professionals are employed in manufacturing and production industries. Other safety professionals work in the construction, transportation, mining, petroleum, and medical industries. Technicians work for a wide variety of employers, large and small. At a large company, technicians are likely to be part of a large safety and health staff, with their own areas of specialization and responsibilities. At a small company, the safety and health staff may consist of just one or two technicians who assume full responsibility for the entire operation.

Most manufacturing companies have a safety officer, an industrial hygienist, or a safety engineer. In addition, many insurance companies have safety and health specialists on their staffs. Some industrial safety and health technicians work for the government, chiefly for OSHA, or as instructors at community colleges.

STARTING OUT

Many graduates of industrial safety and health technology programs find their first jobs before graduation because recruiters regularly visit schools with such programs. School career services officers identify graduating students that may be interested in jobs in industrial safety so that recruiters can interview and sometimes even make job offers on the spot. Work study arrangements can also result in placements for students after graduation.

Another method of entering a technician career is by first working as an assistant to a safety engineer or a member of the industrial safety and health staff of a large company. After gaining some experience and making contacts in the industry, a more involved job in occupational safety may become available, Some individuals who join industrial safety and health staffs have trained in specialized work, such as arc welding, machining, foundry work, or metal forming, all of which can be especially hazardous.

These experienced workers have already learned safety and health principles while on the job. With additional study, these workers can become industrial safety and health technicians in their specific fields.

ADVANCEMENT

Advancement for industrial safety and health technicians usually results from formal training and continued study. Job experience and exceptional work performance may also lead to a promotion and more responsibility. Keeping abreast of developments and safety practices can help to reduce costs, increase productivity, and improve worker morale and company image. Technicians who help make such improvements in the workplace usually receive higher status and salary with time.

Safety technicians employed by large organizations with specialized departments can work in different areas of the safety system throughout the plant. After working at various assignments, they may advance to a supervisory position overseeing multiple departments or work areas.

After several years of experience and a good record of success, technicians can become specialized safety consultants or government inspectors. Some even become private consultants to insurance companies or small businesses. Many small companies cannot afford a full-time safety engineer and instead hire a consultant to set up an industrial safety and health plan. In such cases, the chief consultant responsible for the newly enacted plan may return periodically to check that all is working and suggest changes where needed. All of these advanced positions offer independence and financial rewards for successful and responsible industrial safety and health technicians.

EARNINGS

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the median annual salary of industrial safety and health technicians was $42,160 in 2006. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $25,240, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $68,640. In local government, safety and health technicians had mean annual earnings of $41,890. Recent graduates in the safety sciences receive average starting salaries of $40,000 a year or more. According to a 2005 survey by Safety + Health magazine, nearly half of all respondents with between five and 10 years of experience reported earning between $50,000 and $79,999 annually. As they advance, top safety professionals with more than 20 years of experience can earn salaries of $100,000 or more.

Individuals in this career can expect benefits such as paid vacation, insurance, and paid holidays equal to those for other salaried employees in an organization. Some employers provide a special compensation plan for the industrial safety and health staff, including an annual bonus for measurably improving the company’s safety record.

In addition, technicians and other safety workers often find that employers provide liberal support for job-related study and professional programs. This may include paid memberships in professional organizations, travel, and other costs associated with attending meetings or conferences.

WORK ENVIRONMENT

Industrial safety and health technicians work either in an office or in the part of the plant for which they are responsible. Regardless of where they work, technicians must always set a good example for safety. When appropriate, they must wear safety clothes, hats, shoes, glasses, and other protective clothing, and of course, they must follow good safety practices at all times.

Technicians usually work during the day, but in plants that operate three shifts, some evening and night hours may be necessary. Jobs in mining and oil drilling may require safety technicians to be present around the clock, with “on-and-off” work shifts. Rates of pay for such situations are usually higher than for regular eight-hour shifts.

Office work usually involves reading government regulations, filing reports, maintaining records, and studying planned changes in safety procedures. Such work is likely to be fairly routine. Whether working as part of a team of safety professionals or as part of the organization’s management, industrial safety and health technicians must be able to juggle many tasks and coordinate with people in all departments. They must be able to communicate effectively with coworkers, union representatives, and supervisors. Technicians must also be effective teachers, able to impart information and instill a “safety first” attitude in others. Safe work habits are not acquired naturally. Industrial safety and health technicians who help fellow employees to work safely at their best rate of productivity can derive great satisfaction from their work.

OUTLOOK

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, employment for industrial safety and health technicians is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2014. While much of the demand for these technicians is created by industrial employers and their insurers, the overall demand is affected by the level of government regulation and enforcement regarding safety and health.

Over the last decade, there has been a general pullback in government regulation and spending on industrial safety and health. If this trend continues, employment levels will probably grow slowly, since approximately 40 percent of all safety specialists and technicians are employed by federal, state, and local governments. In private industry, employment growth will be helped by the self-enforcement of company regulations and policies. Regardless of economic fluctuations, workers demanding a safe work environment will require the expertise of industrial safety and health technicians.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

For information on certification, contact:

American Board of Industrial Hygiene

6015 West St. Joseph, Suite 102

Lansing, MI 48917-3980

Tel: 517-321-2638

Email: abih@abih.org

http://www.abih.org

For information on careers and training programs, contact

American Society of Safety Engineers

1800 East Oakton Street

Des Plaines, IL 60018-2100

Tel: 847-699-2929

Email: customerservice@asse.org

http://www.asse.org

For information on certification and to download copies of the Career Guide to the Safety Profession and Career Paths in Safety, visit the BCSP’s Web site.

Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP)

208 Burwash Avenue

Savoy, IL 61874-9571

Tel: 217-359-9263

Email: bcsp@bcsp.org

http://www.bcsp.com

For information on industrial safety issues, contact:

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

U.S. Department of Labor

200 Constitution Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20210-0001

Tel: 800-321-6742

http://www.osha.gov

For a variety of resources about industrial safety, contact:

Industrial Accident Prevention Association

The center for Health & Safety Innovation

5110 Creekbank Road, Suite 300

Mississauga, ON L4W OA1 Canada

Tel: 800-406-4272

http://www.iapa.on.ca

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