Professionals who inspect workplaces to ensure compliance with safety and environmental standards are called occupational health and safety (OHS) specialists. They are also known as safety and health professionals, or OHS inspectors.

OHS specialists, most of whom have full-time positions, work in the public and private sectors. Many jobs are provided by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other federal agencies. Outside the government, OHS specialists are employed by hospitals, consulting companies, and factories.

Some work regular, daytime hours. Others are assigned to other shifts, or must be on call to respond to emergencies. These inspectors may specialize in certain types of facilities, like office buildings, hospitals, schools, manufacturing plants, or mines. In some cases, they consult with engineers and other experts before making recommendations.

Occupational Health and Safety Specialist Job Description

OHS specialists scrutinize all the mechanical systems in a building that must function properly to avoid adversely affecting workers, customers, or others. Workplaces should be well ventilated, and neither too hot nor too cold. Machinery and equipment need to be properly maintained, and employees require good lighting.

Government regulations and standards set by business owners must be met. They concern the mitigation of hazards in facilities, equipment, products, systems, and procedures. The goal is to prevent accidents that could cause injuries, and stop diseases from spreading. A working environment may contain chemical, biological, or radioactive materials.

In addition to making sure everything is safe and in good working order, OHS specialists suggest upgrades and alterations to equipment and systems. They conduct training sessions regarding health and safety for managers and employees.

Changes in policies and procedures that could improve workers’ productivity and reduce turnover also may be recommended. Specialists advise agency chiefs and business owners about opportunities to save money on insurance, workers’ compensation, legal expenses, and other costs.

The responsibilities of an occupational health and safety specialist include:
  • Work with doctors, engineers, and other specialists to design and implement safety programs and policies
  • Inspect workplaces, collecting samples of dust, gases, vapors, and other materials
  • Subject the samples to laboratory analysis to detect toxic elements
  • Examine equipment and machinery, as well as buildings’ structural features
  • Ensure that lighting, ventilation, temperature-control, and other systems are functioning correctly
  • Recommend or order upgrades and alterations to equipment and procedures
  • When warranted, order work shutdowns and impose fines
  • Perform audits at hazardous-waste disposal areas and industrial operations
  • Create and carry out health and safety programs, to educate and train workers about procedures and protocols
  • Show employees how to properly and safely use equipment and supplies
  • Ensure that hazardous materials are inventoried and securely handled, stored, and transported
  • Design and implement hygiene programs concerned with preventing the spread of contagious diseases
  • Develop plans to manage asbestos and other hazardous materials that may be present
  • Make sure workplaces are equipped with firefighting equipment, first-aid supplies, and other emergency items
  • Investigate accidents and health problems to determine their cause
  • Draft or revise facilities’ emergency-response plans

Occupational Health and Safety Specialist Prerequisites

In addition to the possibility of working long and irregular hours, and being called upon in emergency situations, OHS specialists have to endure extensive travel. The workplaces assigned to them for inspection may be spread across the country.

Excellent communication skills are required to educate people about health and safety issues. Information needs to be effectively explained to supervisors and workers who may have a wide range of experience and education. An ability to handle confrontations is helpful, as some agency officials and business managers do not like being told they have to finance expensive upgrades to the operations.

Attention to detail and problem-solving skills are crucial. Also, OHS specialists sometimes come into contact with hazardous materials and unsafe facilities. They need to recognize the dangers, and follow proper protocols to protect themselves.

Occupational Health and Safety Specialist Education

A high school student planning to become an OHS specialist should take classes in biology, chemistry, English, math, and physics. Such courses are good preparation for any sort of medical career, as well.

To get a job as an OHS specialist, at least a bachelor’s degree in occupational health, biology, chemistry, or engineering is generally needed. It is important to make sure a degree program is recognized by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. One-year OHS certificate programs are available for those who already hold degrees in related fields.

In addition to a degree, job applicants must show that they have received sufficient practical experience. This can be obtained by signing up for internships while in college.

To get promoted or qualify for a higher-paying position, a master’s degree in industrial hygiene or health physics may be helpful. Classes in master’s degree programs cover the handling of hazardous materials, the science of radiation, respiratory protection, and other subjects.

Occupational Health and Safety Specialist Certification

No license or professional certificate is required to work as an OHS specialist. However, better jobs and higher pay may result from successfully completing a training course offered by the Certified Occupational Safety Specialist (COSS) program. These certificates are recognized by the American Council for Construction Education and the American Association of Safety Councils.