Industrial hygienists are safety professionals who focus primarily on health hazards in the workplace. Health hazards can result from overexposure to dangerous chemicals, radiation, noise, toxic air contaminants or biological agents. According to OSHA, industrial hygienists, "are trained to anticipate, recognize, evaluate, and recommend controls for environmental and physical hazards that can affect the health and well-being of workers.” Becoming an industrial hygienist with the skills needed to recognize and abate health hazards requires a combination of education and practical experience.
Research the Job
To gauge the skills you need for job proficiency, become familiar with industrial hygiene job duties. Industrial hygienists assess the potential for exposure to chemical hazards such as vapors, dusts and fumes, physical hazards such as noise and extreme temperatures, and ergonomic hazards from poor work-station designs. When such hazards exist, the hygienists find ways to control or eliminate risks. The skill sets needed for this work include chemistry and science knowledge, understanding of control technology such as ventilation systems, and understanding of monitoring, sampling and analytical techniques.
Gain the Knowledge
Enrolling in an industrial hygiene or safety and health degree program from a college or university, or a certificate program from an OSHA-approved training institute, provides fundamental understanding of the job. Educational programs cover chemical properties, toxicology and physiology in sufficient detail for students to understand how to assess and evaluate worker exposure. Course work will also cover a variety of sampling protocols and instruments used in sampling and monitoring. Those already working in some safety capacity may benefit from a certificate program. Those without prior knowledge should consider a degree program.
Gaining work experience through internships or entry-level safety positions is the next step to becoming a skilled industrial hygienist. Practical work experience provides the opportunity to use industrial hygiene knowledge to identify and mitigate health hazards in a variety of workplaces. For example, noise may be an issue in a machine shop. As a hygienist, you monitor noise levels and recommend control measures to protect against worker hearing loss. In a laboratory, you might monitor chemical exposures and recommend ventilation systems to prevent build-up of toxic atmospheres.
For more advanced career opportunities, becoming certified is the next step. Organizations such as the American Board of Industrial Hygiene offer certification programs recognized and accepted by industry experts. You typically need several years of work experience in occupation health and safety before seeking certification. Passing a certification exam requires experience and knowledge. A college degree can, in some cases, be substituted for up to two years of experience. After certification, continuing education is necessary to stay certified.
2016 Salary Information for Occupational Health and Safety Specialists
Occupational health and safety specialists earned a median annual salary of $70,920 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, occupational health and safety specialists earned a 25th percentile salary of $54,320, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $88,050, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 83,700 people were employed in the U.S. as occupational health and safety specialists.