Occupational Health and Safety Specialists: A Day in the Life

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Worker holding a hard hat in front of a building being constructed

Occupational health and safety specialists take on a variety of key duties to help ensure the safety of workers. They analyze and inspect work environments and procedures, design preventative programs for worker safety, investigate incidents and identify causes, train workers for emergencies, and examine all aspects of the workplace. Their job is to make the workplace a secure and optimum environment for everyone in it.

In 1970, there were 38 deaths a day on average in America’s workplaces and 10.9 incidents of injury or illness per 100 workers. Today, those numbers have been reduced to 13 deaths a day on average and only 3.3 incidents of injury or illness per 100 workers — thanks to the diligence and efforts of occupational health and safety specialists.

These specialists also work to save companies money through lower insurance premiums and worker’s compensation payments, and the prevention of government fines. In brief, they create a safe and healthy environment in which individuals can work effectively and efficiently.

Occupational Health and Safety Specialist Daily Responsibilities

Occupational health and safety specialists work in a variety of settings such as offices, warehouses, schools, mines, factories, and beyond. Their jobs can involve a substantial amount of fieldwork and travel. Exposure to harmful conditions is inevitable, so the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) is sometimes necessary. While the job operates during standard business hours, travel and emergencies can make for irregular hours and busy weekends.

The daily work of an occupational health and safety specialist is varied and comprehensive. They perform a wide range of duties because workplace hazards can be found in all aspects of the environment. Their main day-to-day responsibilities include:

  • Finding hazards in the workplace — Specialists confirm open pathways to emergency exits, clean air, and anything that may be deemed harmful to workers.
  • Testing samples of toxic materials — Mildew, mold, rust, foreign residue, and other materials are analyzed for dangerous components.
  • Implementation of safety procedures — Specialists update and use safety procedures to minimize accidents or injuries throughout the workplace. Maximum safety can be achieved through prior planning, strategy, and communication.
  • Accident investigations — They investigate any and all injuries, accidents and deaths to establish cause, negligence, fault, and prevent any future risks.
  • Emergency training — Educating workers is one of the most effective ways to avoid harmful incidents in the workplace. Specialists facilitate training to prepare everyone to stay calm in an emergency as well as how to focus on finding safe spaces.
  • Examination of fixtures and ventilation — Occupational health and safety specialists regularly inspect the utilities that affect worker’s five senses to keep operations effective, optimum and comfortable.

Occupational health and safety specialists must be knowledgeable and trained to inspect every facet of the workplace environment for present risks as well as potential future risks. These duties can be further defined through the pursuit of a certain type of occupational health and safety specialty. For example, an ergonomist implements contemporary and efficient designs for office equipment that maximize worker comfort, safety and productivity.

An occupational hygienist is another example of a specialty in the field. This professional focuses on identifying health hazards such as lead, hazardous noise levels, pesticides, diseases and asbestos. Yet another example is a health physicist. They work in environments that include radiation, such as medical facilities or power plants, to protect people and the environment from radioactive material.

Occupational Health and Safety Specialist Education

To handle the rigorous workload of the job, specialists should be technologically savvy, have great communication skills, be detail-oriented, have physical stamina and implement problem-solving skills. A career begins with earning a bachelor’s degree in occupational health and safety. Some more advanced positions will require a master’s degree in a related area.

Though not all employers require their occupational health and safety specialists to have certification, many do. Specialists can earn the following credentials through the Board of Certified Safety Professionals:

  • Certified Safety Professional (CSP)
  • Associate Safety Professional (ASP)
  • Occupational Health and Safety Technologist (OHST)
  • Construction Health and Safety Technician (CHST)

Occupational health and safety specialists are a line of defense against needless accidents and tragedies. They work mostly behind-the-scenes, protecting employers and employees alike from unseen or unknown dangers as well as working to fully prevent dire situations. It is rewarding work, with a variety of career options that focus on specific fields and environments.

Occupational Health and Safety Specialist Career

Specialists are hired mostly by federal, state and local governments. Many work for the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). They are responsible for implementing the laws and regulations that U.S companies are bound by in an effort to promote safety in the workplace.

Professional growth can occur both with government agencies and the private sector. Larger companies will employ their own branch of occupational health and safety to stay ahead of government regulations and help eliminate potential fines. Third-party consultant groups also offer fulfilling careers working with companies who don’t have a health and safety department but need to stay updated and educated.

Occupational Health and Safety Specialist Salary

The salary for occupational health and safety specialist ranges because specialists have different levels of education and experience. The annual median pay for occupational health and safety specialists was $74,100 as of May 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Annual median salaries can change based on work environment and geographic location. For instance, the BLS notes that the 2019 annual median salary for specialists working in construction was $72,840, while the annual median salary for those in manufacturing was $74,820.

According to the BLS, there are 117,900 occupational health and safety jobs in the U.S. The 10-year outlook estimates 6% projected job growth from 2018 to 2028. This is above the average growth rate for all jobs and is increasing at a steady pace.

Learn More About Occupational Health and Safety

Individuals who are interested in a variety of careers in occupational health and safety can pursue different degrees and certificates in safety, security, and emergency management at Eastern Kentucky University.

Students can earn a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety or a Master of Science in Safety, Security, and Emergency Management with a concentration in Occupational Safety, among other degrees and graduate certificates. These programs teach a curriculum that provides a comprehensive look at occupational safety concepts and how to implement them. Students learn to identify and analyze potential workplace hazards, infractions and risks that impact real-world environments.

At Eastern Kentucky University, you will gain a graduate-level education from industry-experienced educators and safety professionals who are committed to teaching and preparing you for continued success.

Explore how Eastern Kentucky University’s online Master of Science in Safety, Security and Emergency Management can prepare you for a successful career in occupational health and safety.

Recommended Reading:

Five Ways to Improve Office Safety
The Demand for Safety Professionals in the U.S.
The Foundations of Hazard Control


Board of Certified Safety Professionals
HSE Watch, “10 Top HSE Certification You Must Have”
My Next Move, Occupational Health & Safety Specialists
Truity, Occupational Health and Safety Specialist
United States Department of Labor, Commonly Used Statistics 
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Health and Safety Specialists and Technicians