Career Outlook: Occupational Health and Safety Specialists

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People looking at a tabletIf you want a career that values keen observation, problem-solving, helping others, and offers competitive pay then consider a career path as an occupational health and safety specialist.

Occupational health and safety specialists (OHSSs) are investigators of the workplace. Their goal is to prepare for, prevent, and mitigate potential hazards that could cause injury, damage, or death. They can specialize in certain safety aspects of the workplace or focus on the physical well-being of workers themselves. An OHSS is responsible for creating a work environment where the risk of injury or danger is virtually nonexistent.

Occupational health and safety professionals may work for a government agency such as OSHA, bringing employers up to regulatory compliance, or for private companies who want to stay ahead of regulations. This career path has great potential for those who are willing to pursue it.

Job Description and Duties

Occupational health and safety specialists must be vigilant to perform their duties effectively and efficiently. They defend against seen and unforeseen emergencies and disasters that can negatively affect the workplace. Most of their job is dedicated to finding potential issues and preventing them from becoming problems.

An OHSS assumes a variety of key duties. They identify potential risks in work environments by examining tangible factors that could negatively affect employee health. These risk factors can encompass anything from lighting and ventilation to office equipment and furniture. Additionally, an OHSS seeks to reduce employee absenteeism caused by occupational risks to improve workplace efficiency and effectiveness.

To achieve consistent safety throughout all workplaces, occupational health and safety specialists conduct health and safety training for workers involving topics such as emergency preparedness. Other primary duties include inspecting workplaces for compliance with safety policies and investigating accidents that could be prevented in the future through newly created regulation.

Career Specializations

Even though their title includes the term ‘specialist,’ an OHSS can further specialize in specific areas of occupational health and safety. For example, they can become ergonomists or occupational hygienists.

Ergonomics studies the comfort and usability of workplace furniture and environments. This is a relatively new field; helping to solve previously unnoticed issues that can cause low employee productivity, discomfort, and even injury. Ergonomists also create new and innovative furniture and workspaces meant to increase employee output, morale, and general satisfaction.

Occupational hygienists are on the lookout for health hazards in the workplace. Occupational diseases can injure, permanently cripple, and even lead to death if not prevented and treated correctly. A few examples of occupational diseases include heat illness, hearing loss, asthma, and dermatitis. Hygienists are responsible for identifying hazards that can cause these unfortunate diseases. Possible causes include toxic chemicals, air pollutants, loud noises, extreme temperatures, and pesticides.

Salary and Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary of an OHSS in 2019 was $74,100. However, the salary of the highest 10% of earners (such as managers) was $111,130 and $43,630 for the lowest 10%. This is a wide range, but it takes into account levels of experience and specializations.

Job outlook estimates for occupational health and safety specialists, also from the BLS, predict the rate of employment will increase by 6 percent from 2018 to 2028. This figure is a little lower than the average growth for all occupations. While the growth in job opportunities may be slightly slower, there is good news. Those who can adapt to new technology and practices are valued candidates to become occupational health and safety specialists. In addition, new employment opportunities will continue to open as current specialists retire. Those who specialize or bring experience can also expect an advantage in seeking OHSS employment.


To become an OHSS, most everyone needs a 4-year college degree. Students can major in areas such as biology, civil engineering, environmental engineering, and occupational safety if they want options.  During their college years, students should find an internship in areas focused on health and occupational safety to gain real-life experience. In some special cases, states may offer certification to health and safety practitioners who have completed a certain amount of work.

Professionals who want to advance their careers further should consider earning an OHS degree. The degree opens doorways such as earning a master’s degree and specializing in a safety field. Specialization provides professionals with a competitive edge that can benefit their career growth.

The Workplace Sherlock Holmes

Occupational health and safety specialists can assist offices, warehouses, shops, construction sites, and more by preventing hazards before they occur. Workers are busy with their normal routines, meeting deadlines, and progressing in their own careers. They should not have to worry about their safety and risk of injury. That is why occupational health and safety specialists commit themselves to workplace safety, finding and solving occupational risks to health and well-being. It is a career for those who want to solve problems that may save lives.

Learn More at Eastern Kentucky University’s Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety Program

Learn to identify and analyze potential workplace hazards, infractions, and risks through a bachelor of science in occupational safety online. At Eastern Kentucky University, you will gain a graduate-level education by industry-experienced educators and fire and safety professionals who are committed to teaching and preparing you for continued success.

Recommended Readings:

Occupational Health and Safety Specialists: A Day in the Life
Recent Trends in Safety Program Development
What is an Online Occupational Safety Degree?
4 Security Management Jobs that Could Be Perfect for You


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2017, “Occupational Health and Safety Expert”, Safety Occupational Health Specialist Jobs