There are about 11,000 occupational health and safety technicians in the United States. Job growth indicators suggest that the occupation will grow slighter faster than average over the next ten years at 14%.
Occupational health and safety technicians assist occupational health and safety specialists in their efforts to protect employees, the public, the environment and property. Technicians also help develop employee efficiency and save private companies money by helping them avoid governmental fines and lower insurance payments.
Some technicians work for local, state and the federal governments as inspectors. Occupational health and safety technicians gather data from routine or unscheduled inspections. They assess air and water quality, equipment, furniture, and other elements found in workplaces or the environment and gather information that will be reviewed by an occupational health and safety specialist. Occupational health and safety technicians assist in the execution and assessment of safety programs. They set up and adjust equipment, collect samples of potentially noxious materials for testing, and determine if their storage follows regulations. Occupational health and safety technicians test lifting platforms, scaffolding, machine guards and other types of equipment to improve worker safety and determine if goggles, masks, respirators, lead aprons and hardhats are being used correctly. They inspect work settings for possible health or injury hazards like mold, toxic vapors, or explosive mixtures and suggest how hazards can be minimized or eliminated. In addition to inspecting tools, equipment, lighting, and furniture, technicians may interview employees or watch them within a work context.
Occupational health and safety technicians work in a number of industries. Among them are hospitals, mines, quarries, schools, the environment, and manufacturing. Their specific tasks depend upon the industry. For example, mine examiners assess mines to determine if methane or other dangerous gases are present. Environmental protection technicians focus on the use, storage and discarding of hazardous waste as well as contaminated ground water or soil. Health physics technicians attend to the use of radiation and radioactive material to ensure that employees and the environment are protected from excess exposure. Employee or community exposure to asbestos, lead, pesticides and infectious diseases is evaluated by industrial hygienists.
Occupational health and safety technicians may work in a wide range of environments, including manufacturing plants, offices, hospitals, and might require travel. In addition to exposure to the same illnesses or injury hazards as the people they are trying to protect, occupational health and safety technicians may experience stress if an organization opposes their recommendations for improvement. While some technicians may be required to work weekends or overtime hours, the majority are employed in jobs with standard work hours.
Occupational health and safety technicians should be extremely detail oriented, communicate well both orally and in writing, and be able to work under potentially stressful conditions.
The occupation sees new hires who have graduated from a postsecondary program and been granted a certificate or associate’s degree. Alternatively, an employee who is already working within a particular industry may assume health and safety responsibilities. In this case on-the-job training, in conjunction with some type of workshop or classroom instruction, is sufficient.
The Council on Certification of Health, Environmental, and Safety Technologists provides technicians with credentialing certificates. Most require recertification within a specified time period.
With time and experience, occupational health and safety technicians working for governmental organizations or the private sector will advance to a full-performance level. Those interested in becoming supervisors will find competition from other employees; their competency, work ethic, experience, knowledge and communication skills will all be evaluated against those of other applicants. Technicians with ample work experience, a broad educational background, and a good understanding of a range of business functions are more likely to be promoted. Many occupational health and safety technicians join professional groups that offer continuing education classes, professional journals and websites, conferences, and networking prospects. Technicians who acquire a bachelor’s or advanced degree in occupational health and safety or in a related area can be advanced to occupational health and safety specialists.
Twenty-two percent of all occupational health and safety technicians are employed by Federal, state or local government agencies. Others are hired by companies or work under contract. Some work as consultants.
The median annual income for occupational health and safety technicians is approximately $46,000. Those in the midrange earn between $36,000 and $58,000. Those in the lowest 10% in terms of pay receive under $27,000, while those in the highest 10% earn more than $74,000.