What is an Occupational Health Specialist?
Table of Contents
An occupational health specialist is someone who analyzes work environments and work procedures. They inspect workplaces for adherence to regulations on safety, health, and the environment. They also design programs to prevent disease or injury to workers and damage to the environment. They work in a variety of settings, such as offices, factories, and mines.
How to Become an Occupational Health Specialist
What does an Occupational Health Specialist do?
Occupational health specialists typically do the following:
- Identify chemical, physical, radiological, and biological hazards in the workplace
- Collect samples of potentially toxic materials for analysis
- Inspect and evaluate workplace environments, equipment, and practices to ensure that safety standards and government regulations are being followed
- Recommend measures to help protect workers from potentially hazardous work conditions
- Investigate accidents to identify their causes and to determine how they might be prevented in the future
Occupational health specialists examine lighting, equipment, ventilation, and other conditions that could affect employee health, safety, comfort, and performance. Workers usually are more alert and productive in environments that have specific levels of lighting or temperature. Health specialists seek to increase worker productivity by reducing absenteeism and equipment downtime. They also seek to save money by lowering insurance premiums and workers’ compensation payments and by preventing government fines.
Some occupational health specialists develop and conduct employee safety and training programs. These programs cover a range of topics, such as how to use safety equipment correctly and how to respond in an emergency. They work to prevent harm not only to workers but also to property, the environment, and the public by inspecting workplaces for chemical, radiological, and biological hazards. Specialists who work for governments conduct safety inspections and can impose fines.
Occupational health specialists work with engineers and physicians to control or fix potentially hazardous conditions or equipment. They sometimes collect and analyze data in the workplace. Their tasks vary by industry, workplace, and types of hazards affecting employees. The following are examples of different types of such health specialists:
Environmental protection officers evaluate and coordinate storing and handling hazardous waste, cleaning up contaminated soil or water, and other activities that affect the environment
Ergonomists consider the design of industrial, office, and other equipment to maximize workers' comfort, safety, and productivity
Health physicists work in locations that use radiation and radioactive material, helping to protect people and the environment from hazardous radiation exposure
Industrial hygienists identify workplace health hazards, such as lead, asbestos, noise, pesticides, and communicable diseases
Loss prevention specialists work for insurance companies. They inspect the facilities that are insured and suggest improvements to prevent losses.
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How to Become an Occupational Health Specialist
High school students interested in becoming occupational health specialists should take courses in english, mathematics, chemistry, biology, and physics. A bachelor’s degree is needed in occupational health, safety, or a related scientific or technical field, such as engineering, biology, or chemistry.
For some positions, a master’s degree is required in industrial hygiene, health physics, or a related subject. Typical courses include radiation science, hazardous material management and control, risk communications, and respiratory protection. These courses may vary, depending on the specialty in which a student wants to work. For example, courses in health physics focus on topics that differ from those in industrial hygiene.
Work experience is often important in this occupation. Internships are not required, but employers often prefer to hire candidates who have been an intern.
Although occupational health specialists learn standard laws and procedures in their formal education, they also need a moderate amount of on-the-job training for specific work environments. For example, all workplaces must meet a certain standard for air quality. However, an occupational health specialist who will inspect offices needs different training than one inspecting factories.
Although certification is voluntary, many employers encourage it. Certification is available through several organizations, depending on the field in which the health specialists work. They typically must have graduated from an accredited educational program and have work experience to be eligible to take most certification exams. To keep their certification, occupational health specialists are usually required to complete periodic continuing education.
What is the workplace of an Occupational Health Specialist like?
Occupational health specialists work in a variety of settings, such as offices, factories, and mines. Their jobs often involve considerable fieldwork and travel. Most work full time, and some may work weekends or irregular hours in emergencies.
Most large government agencies employ occupational health specialists to protect agency employees. In addition to working for governments, you will find them working in management, scientific, and technical consulting services; education services; hospitals; and chemical manufacturing. They may be exposed to dangerous conditions at times, and will use gloves, helmets, and other safety equipment to minimize injury.