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Occupational Health and Safety Specialists - What They Do


How to Advance (Advancement)
Occupational health and safety specialists who work for the Federal Government advance through their career ladder to a specified full-performance level if their work is satisfactory. For positions above this level, usually supervisory positions, advancement is competitive and based on agency needs and individual merit. Advancement opportunities in State and local governments and the private sector are often similar to those in the Federal Government.

Specialists with broad education and experience and those who are well versed in numerous business functions usually have the best advancement opportunities. One way to keep up with current professional developments is to join a professional membership society. These organizations offer journals, continuing education courses, and conferences, which provide learning and networking opportunities and can help workers and students to advance.

Typically an advanced degree and substantial work experience are needed to compete for leadership or senior roles.

Employment
Occupational health and safety specialists held about 55,800 jobs in 2008. While the majority of jobs were spread throughout the private sector; about 41 percent of specialists worked for Federal, State, and local government agencies.

Within the Federal Government, most jobs are as Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors, who enforce U.S. Department of Labor regulations and impose fines. Within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health hires occupational health and safety specialists to offer companies help in evaluating safety without the risk of fines. Most large government agencies also employ occupational health and safety specialists who work to protect agency employees.

Most private companies either employ their own occupational health and safety workers or contract with them. Most contract work is done through consulting companies, but some specialists are self-employed.

In addition to working for governments, occupational health and safety specialists were employed in manufacturing firms; hospitals; educational services; scientific and technical consulting services; mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction, and construction.

Job Outlook
Average employment growth is expected; additional opportunities will arise from the need to replace workers who leave the occupation. Individuals with a well-rounded breadth of knowledge in more than one health and safety specialty will have the best job prospects.

Job Growth
Employment of occupational health and safety specialists is expected to increase 11 percent during the 2008-18 decade, about as fast as the average for all occupations, reflecting a balance of continuing public demand for a safe and healthy work environment against the desire for fewer government regulations.

More specialists will be needed to cope with technological advances in safety equipment and threats, changing regulations, and increasing public expectations. In private industry, employment growth will reflect continuing self-enforcement of government and company regulations and policies.

Insurance and worker's compensation costs have become a financial concern for many employers and insurance companies. As a result, job growth should be good for those specializing in loss prevention, especially in construction safety and in ergonomics.

Growth for occupational health and safety specialists may be hampered by the number of manufacturing and other industry firms offshoring their operations. In addition, the number of workers who telecommute is increasing. Since occupational health and safety specialists do not have access to home offices, their ability to ensure health and safety of workers in home offices is limited.

In addition to job openings from growth, job openings will arise from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations, retire, or leave for other reasons.

As the lines continue to blur between specific health and safety specialties like industrial hygiene, health physics, and loss prevention, individuals with a well-rounded breadth of knowledge in more than one health and safety specialty will have the best job prospects.

Employment of occupational health and safety specialists in the private sector is somewhat affected by general economic fluctuations. Federal, State, and local governments provide considerable job security; these workers are less likely to be affected by changes in the economy.

Earnings
Median annual wages of occupational health and safety specialists were $62,250 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $47,490 and $77,880. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $35,870, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $93,620.

Most occupational health and safety specialists work in large private firms or for Federal, State, and local governments, most of which generally offer benefits more generous than those offered by smaller firms.

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