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Occupational Health and Safety Specialist


A safe workplace is something most North Americans take for granted. In countries like Indonesia and the Philippines, however, workers are crammed into poorly ventilated factories filled with hazardous materials. Clearly, the Western world is a different place in terms of working conditions and safety standards. We are lucky to have occupational health and safety specialists solving workplace woes.

Occupational health and safety specialists promote safety awareness and accident prevention and work towards making workplaces injury-free. They may be employed by a company to reduce safety hazards and promote positive attitudes toward safety measures, or may represent a government agency as an inspector. They typically visit places of employment in order to detect unsafe or unhealthy working conditions and ensure compliance with laws and regulations governing workplace safety.

Health and safety specialists also investigate accidents and grievances at workplaces, and advise employers on safer practices in the workplace. If anyone makes a complaint or gets into an accident at a workplace, the occupational health and safety specialist must conduct an investigation on both the specific incident and then the entire workplace in order to determine where the error occurred and if it could have been prevented. They also must look into the possibility of a breach of health or safety legislation in order to decide if a legal prosecution will take place.

Health and safety specialists must have a thorough comprehension of government legislation relating to safety standards and be skilled in the art of counseling and motivation. They must have an eye to spot potential hazards and accidents in any workplace in order to prevent accidents instead of investigate after the fact. Health and safety specialists may specialize in one area, such as health care, construction or general workplaces in order to become more of an expert in a specific industry. In more rural areas, general workplace health and safety may focus more on farming, factory or office-related accidents or injuries.

On the occasion of a serious accident where a health and safety specialist may have to rush over to a site, the other work they are presently working on, automatically gets pushed back, due to the nature of an emergency situation. It is important for health and safety specialists to stay focused on their objectives and purposes and keep in mind that people sometimes get hysterical when it comes to personal injury, no matter how minor it may be. Therefore, they have to be firm and fair in their judgments while remaining compassionate to people's concerns and injuries.
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  Interests and Skills  
Occupational health and safety specialists must have good communication skills because they are dealing with people on a daily basis and often some of these individuals are hostile. They should enjoy mediating conflicts and helping two disagreeing parties come to viable solutions. Specialists must be open-minded and fair in making judgments and enjoy analyzing difficult information. They also need to have excellent time management and problem-solving skills.

Occupational health and safety specialists must be honest, practical, able to keep confidential information private and possess the ability to relate well to people. They also need to have an eye for detail and safety hazards, always asking questions. They should be healthy, fit individuals, as the position may require some bending and climbing on site inspections.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Check and enforce health and safety legislation in an industry such as adequacy of ventilation, lighting and other conditions that affect employee health, safety and efficiency
  • Investigate accidents, fatalities and serious injuries
  • Write reports including observations and analysis of contaminants
  • Review physicians' reports and conduct worker studies to determine if diseases or illnesses are job-related
  • Take court action or give evidence in court when necessary
  • Ensure suitable protective equipment is provided and is being used correctly on the job
  • Advise people on safe working conditions and environments
  • Recommend safer work practices
  • Review situations where a worker has refused to work on the grounds that danger exists, or the work will cause danger to workers
  • Collect samples of dust, gases, vapors, and other potentially toxic materials for analysis
  • Occupational health and safety specialists work both indoors and outdoors in offices, shops, factories, industrial sites and construction sites. They travel locally to different worksites in order to perform tests and inspections. They work regular office hours and may work evenings and weekends, however there is little time spent behind a desk. They are also required to be on call 24 hours a day in case of emergency investigations. Occupational health and safety specialists are constantly on their feet, checking buildings and meeting with administration and management.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Occupational health and safety specialists work in both the public and private sectors. Many work for large institutions like universities, governments, and large corporations. They are also employed with corporate and occupational health departments, public health agencies, solid and hazardous waste management, general sanitation engineering, and pollution control facilities; all areas that require the services of these specialists. Occupational health and safety specialists work in a wide range of conditions that may be wet, noisy, dirty or dangerous. Occasionally there is risk of verbal or physical abuse.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Occupational health and safety specialists can become leading health inspectors. Job opportunities are expected to be best in urban and industrial centers. The jobs will go to those with advanced training and experience in occupational health and safety. These specialists can also choose to focus their jobs on a particular health or safety area and become a leading expert in that field. Going back to university to obtain a graduate degree is another way to increase your promotion and long term career potential.

  Educational Paths  
There are no standard educational requirements for an occupational health and safety specialist however most have some of the following criteria: a university degree specializing in engineering, science or health or a related college or technical diploma, a journeyman certification, a safety professional designation and extensive work-related experience. Many specialists today have master's degrees and some even have PhDs. Extensive skill, knowledge, and experience are needed for this occupation. Many require more than five years of experience.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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