What Can I Do with an Occupational Safety Degree?

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Professor giving a lectureEarning an occupational safety degree can prepare you for a fulfilling career in practically every industry. Safety is a principal foundation of public and private workplaces. This ensures a healthy need for occupational safety professionals to analyze a variety of risks and implement an array of solutions. For those preparing to graduate, it’s an opportune time to set career goals and map out a career plan. If, as an occupational safety student, you are unsure of where you would like to work, you can explore a position with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

OSHA, as occupational safety students know, is the federal agency dedicated to workplace protection and injury prevention. The agency is a primary employer of government-focused safety professionals who are responsible for promoting, implementing and maintaining safety regulations within public and private U.S. entities. OSHA is considered a leader in workplace safety. As a result, those who wish to pursue a top career with the agency must be exemplary safety professionals. Along with education and work experience, qualifications include additional certifications provided by the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP).

About BCSP

The BCSP is a nonprofit, non-membership organization dedicated to recognizing safety professionals by certifying their knowledge and skills. They, like OSHA, are leaders in safety as demonstrated by their mission: “setting and certifying technical competency criteria for safety, health and environmental practitioners worldwide; enhancing careers, advancing the profession and protecting the public.”

Occupational safety graduates and seasoned safety professionals who are committed to elevating their careers may complement their degree and experience with a BCSP certification. The certification is a  professional, public acknowledgement of expertise, which usually helps with gaining job promotions or attaining desired employment opportunities. For example, if a professional is certified as an Occupational Health and Safety Technologist (OHST), it establishes their expertise in occupational safety including risk assessment, investigation and emergency response plan preparation.

Certifications can help your self-worth, give you a competitive advantage, and help increase career earnings. Successful safety professionals suggest earning BCSP certifications sooner rather than later to reap their full benefits.

America is experiencing a surge of awareness around workplace safety, as public and private sectors realize how much more can and must be done to protect their employees. Occupational safety graduates who are ready to enter the workforce will likely have multiple career options. It’s beneficial for them to gain a knowledge of probable career paths they would like to follow.

Occupational Safety Careers

Regardless of the job title, most safety professionals share similar responsibilities. Differences in responsibility begin to arise, however, at managerial levels. Whether an entry-level employee, an experienced government liaison or department director, the first and foremost concern for all industry professionals is safety. Here is a closer look at some of the positions that populate the safety landscape.

Safety managers and directors typically earn between $70,000 and $82,000 per year, and their primary role is leading a team or department. Their leadership is reflected through practical experience, certification and additional administrative skills necessary for leading other professionals. Many graduates seeking to become managers or directors start by working as health and safety specialists or technicians.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), safety specialists/technicians in 2016 earned a median annual salary of $66,820. These professionals travel frequently to analyze the safety data and risk factors of varying workplaces. It is their responsibility to thoroughly test and examine compliance with safety regulations, test known risks and investigate for additional unknown risks. Safety specialists and technicians also play an important role in creating new safety regulations and strategies, because they often identify workplace risks that were previously undetected. Many specialists and technicians find their work to be fulfilling and exciting because of the wide array of responsibilities they assume and the work environments they manage. Upward career mobility is available to managerial or directorial positions for those who gain experience and demonstrate exceptional expertise.

For those who have set their sights on working toward an influential position within the safety industry, the road may seem daunting. However, there are real success stories that can provide inspiration. Take, for example, the story of the current OSHA Director of Standards and Guidance.

Bill Perry – OSHA Director of Standards and Guidance

Graduates with lofty career goals may want to follow in the footsteps of Bill Perry, the head of OSHA. After working as the deputy director, he was appointed to director in 2014 and is now wholly responsible for the agency’s direction and function. He graduated with a degree in microbiology and began working with OSHA in 1994 as a health scientist. During the 20-year interval between his career start and appointment to director, he worked with multiple teams and on various projects that created new protective substances and updated chemical safety standards. His work portfolio shows a deep diversification between a range of safety areas, from ergonomics to hazardous chemicals. This, among other qualifications, made him a prime candidate for overall agency leadership.

Twenty years may sound like a long commitment, but reaching the top position at OSHA could take much longer. Mr. Perry worked diligently to ensure he had the training, vision, skills and experience to stand out. Now, he is continuing the federal agency’s progress toward providing a safer future for all U.S. workers. His success can serve as encouragement for occupational safety graduates to pursue further education and work experience.

Learn More

To learn more about the safety profession, one option is to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in occupational safety online. At Eastern Kentucky University, you will gain a graduate-level education in the field. You will master a curriculum that is taught by industry-experienced educators and fire and safety professionals who are committed to preparing you for outstanding success.

Recommended Reading

When Companies Refuse to Pay OSHA Fines

The Economic Aspect of Health and Safety

Occupational Safety in the Age of Robotics


Board of Certified Safety Professionals, “Occupational Hygiene And Safety Technician”
Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Health and Safety Specialists and Technicians”
Board of Certified Safety Professionals, “Career Paths in Safety”
Board of Certified Safety Professionals, “Career Paths in Safety” PDF
Payscale, “Occupational Health and Safety Degree”
OSHA.gov “OSHA Trade Release”