Career Guide for Occupational Health and Safety Technicians

Occupational health and safety technicians work with occupational health and safety specialists to prevent harm to workers and the general public. They help the specialists accomplish their job – designing workspaces, enforcing rules, and helping prevent disease or injury in the workplace.

In this free career guide, you will learn how to have a successful career as an occupational health and safety technician.

Occupational Health and Safety Technician Summary

  • About 22 percent of technicians worked in government agencies that enforce rules on safety, health, and the environment.
  • Technicians attend postsecondary school or enter the occupation through work experience and training.
  • Individuals with a well-rounded breadth of knowledge in more than one health and safety specialty will have the best job prospects.

Working as an Occupational Health & Safety Technician

Occupational health and safety technicians work with occupational health and safety specialists to help prevent harm to workers, property, the environment, and the general public. For example, they might help design safe work spaces, inspect machines, or test air quality. In addition to making workers safer, technicians work with specialists to increase worker productivity by reducing absenteeism and equipment downtime, and to save money by lowering insurance premiums and workers’ compensation payments, and preventing government fines. Some technicians work for governments conducting safety inspections and imposing fines.

Occupational health and safety technicians take measurements and collect workplace data either for routine inspection or as directed by a specialist. Technicians often focus on testing air, water, machines, and other elements of the work environment. They collect data that occupational health and safety specialists then analyze. Usually working under the supervision of specialists, they also help to implement and evaluate safety programs.

To measure hazards, such as noise or radiation, occupational health and safety technicians prepare and calibrate scientific equipment. They must properly collect and handle samples of dust, gases, vapors, and other potentially toxic materials to ensure personal safety and accurate test results.

To ensure that machinery and equipment complies with appropriate safety regulations, occupational health and safety technicians may examine and test machinery and equipment, such as lifting devices, machine guards, or scaffolding. They may check that personal protective equipment, such as masks, respirators, protective eyewear, or hardhats, is being used according to regulations. They also check that hazardous materials are stored correctly. They test and identify work areas for potential accident and health hazards, such as toxic vapors, mold, mildew, and explosive gas-air mixtures and help implement appropriate control measures, such as adjustments to ventilation systems. Their inspection of the workplace might involve talking with workers and observing their work, as well as inspecting elements in their work environment, such as lighting, tools, and equipment.

The responsibilities of occupational health and safety technicians vary by industry, workplace, and types of hazards affecting employees.Mine examiners, for example, are technicians who inspect mines for proper air flow and health hazards such as the buildup of methane or other noxious gases. Environmental protection technicians evaluate and coordinate the storage and handling of hazardous waste, the cleanup of contaminated soil or water, or other activities that affect the environment. Health physics technicians work in places that use radiation and radioactive material, helping to protect people and the environment from hazardous radiation exposure. Industrial hygiene technicians examine the workplace for health hazards, such as exposure to lead, asbestos, pesticides, or communicable diseases.

Work environment. Occupational health and safety technicians work in a variety of settings from offices and factories to mines. Their jobs often involve considerable fieldwork, and some require frequent travel.

Occupational health and safety technicians may be exposed to many of the same strenuous, dangerous, or stressful conditions faced by industrial employees. They may find themselves in an adversarial role if an organization disagrees with their recommendations. Most technicians work the typical 40 hour week. Some occupational health and safety technicians may be required to work overtime, and often irregular, hours.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Technicians attend postsecondary school or enter the occupation through work experience and training. All occupational health and safety technicians are trained in the applicable laws or inspection procedures through some combination of classroom and on-the-job training.

Education and training. There are multiple paths to entry-level employment as an occupational health and safety technicians. Some technicians attend postsecondary school and typically earn an associate degree or certificate. Other technicians enter the occupation through work experience and training. In this case, an individual typically already works in the industry and may volunteer with their employer to take on health and safety responsibilities. These workers then usually receive on-the-job training coupled with some formal education. All occupational health and safety technicians are trained in the applicable laws or inspection procedures through some combination of classroom and on-the-job training.

Recommended high school courses include English, mathematics, chemistry, biology, and physics.

Certification and other qualifications. Although voluntary, many employers encourage credentialing. The Council on Certification of Health, Environmental, and Safety Technologists offers credentialing at the technician level. For specific requirements for each credential, contact the certifying body. Most certifications require completing periodic continuing education for recertification.

In general, people who want to enter this occupation should be responsible and like detailed work. Occupational health and safety technicians also should be able to communicate well.

Advancement. Occupational health and safety technicians 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.

Technicians 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 society. These organizations offer journals, continuing education courses, and conferences that provide learning and networking opportunities and can help workers and students to advance.

With a bachelor’s or advanced degree, technicians can become occupational health and safety specialists.

Employment as a Occupational Health and Safety Technician

Occupational health and safety technicians held about 10,900 jobs in 2008. While the majority of jobs were spread throughout the private sector, about 22 percent of technicians worked for government agencies.

Most private companies either employ their own occupational health and safety workers or contract with them. Most contract work is done through consulting companies.

In addition to working for governments, occupational health and safety technicians were employed in manufacturing firms; public and private hospitals; educational services; scientific and technical consulting services; administrative and support services; and support activity for mining.

Job Outlook

Faster than 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.

Employment change. Employment of occupational health and safety technicians is expected to increase 14 percent during the 2008-18 decade, faster than 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 technicians 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 overall business growth and continuing self-enforcement of government and company regulations and policies.

Although most occupational health and safety technicians work under supervision of specialists, technicians can complete many of the routine job tasks with little or no supervision. As a result in order to contain costs, some employers operate with more technicians and fewer specialists.

Growth for occupational health and safety technicians may be hampered by the number of manufacturing and other industry firms offshoring their operations. Also, the increasing popularity of telecommuting, or working at home, will result in less work space for technicians to inspect.

Job prospects. 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. Health and safety technicians with a wide breadth of knowledge in more than one area of health and safety along with general business functions will have the best prospects.

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

Projections Data

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2008 Projected
Employment, 2018
Change,
2008-18
Number Percent
Occupational health and safety technicians 29-9012 10,900 12,500 1,600 14
NOTE: Data in this table are rounded.

Earnings for Occupational Health and Safety Technicians

Median annual wages of occupational health and safety technicians were $45,360 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $35,160 and $57,110. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $26,540, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $73,050. Median annual wages in the industries employing the largest numbers of occupational health and safety specialists and technicians in May 2008 were:

Support activities for mining $56,060
Local government 45,320
Colleges, universities, and professional schools 44,990
General medical and surgical hospitals 41,490
Management, scientific, and technical consulting 41,100

Most occupational health and safety technicians 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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