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 constructedOccupational health and safety specialists 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 and 10.9 incidents of injury or illness per 100 workers. Today, that number has 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 effort of these specialists.

They also work to save money through lower insurance premiums, lessen worker’s compensation payments, and to prevent government fines. In brief, they create a safe, healthy environment in which to work effectively and efficiently.

Daily Responsibilities

Occupational health and safety specialists work in a variety of settings such as offices, warehouses, schools, mines, and factories. Their jobs can involve a substantial amount of fieldwork and travel. Exposure to harmful conditions is inevitable, so the use of personal protective equipment is necessary to minimize potential injury or illness. While the job operates during standard work week hours, travel and emergencies can actualize in irregular hours and busy weekends.

The daily work for an occupational health and safety specialist is varied and comprehensive. They perform a plethora of duties as hazards are found in all aspects of an environment. The main 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, and foreign residue is 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: Any and all injuries, accidents, or death are investigated for cause, negligence, fault, and prevention of any future risks.
  • Emergency training: Educating workers is one of the most effective ways to avoid harmful incidents in the workplace. Practice keeps everyone calm in an emergency as well as focused on finding safety.
  • Examination of fixtures and ventilation: Inspection of utilities directly correlated with a worker’s five senses keeps operations effective, optimum, and comfortable.

Specialists must be knowledgeable and trained to inspect every facet of the workplace environment for potential 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 maximizes comfort, safety, and productivity of workers. Another example is an occupational hygienist which specializes in identifying health hazards like lead, noise, pesticides, diseases, and asbestos.


In order to handle the job’s rigorous workload, 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 further master’s degree in a related area.

Specialists are a line of defense against unneeded accidents or tragedies. They work mostly behind-the-scenes, protecting employers and employees alike from unseen or unknown dangers as well as preventing dire situations completely. It is rewarding work with a variety of career options that focus on certain fields and environments.


In 2015, the median pay for occupational health and safety specialists was $70,210, and there were 70,300 jobs in the U.S. The 10 year outlook estimates a 4% growth rate; slightly below the average job growth rate but still increasing at a steady pace.

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

Professional growth can happen outside the realm of government and inside the private sector as well. Larger companies will employ their own branch of health and safety to stay ahead of government regulations and potential fines upon inspection. 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.

Learn More

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.


“Summary.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, n.d. Web. <http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapists.htm>

“ExploreHealthCareers.org.” Occupational Health and Safety Expert. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://explorehealthcareers.org/en/career/34>

“UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR.” Commonly Used Statistics. N.p., n.d. Web. <https://www.osha.gov/oshstats/commonstats.html>