Spotlights

Job Description

Historically-speaking, companies have not always been great at ensuring worker and consumer safety, but luckily this has changed drastically in the modern era. The idea of keeping customers safe and employees healthy, safe, and productive has gained traction for several reasons, including organizational bottom lines. In other words, it pays to take care of people. 
 
As a result, Health and Safety Engineering has blossomed into a broad career field all its own. Workers in this burgeoning sector may specialize in a few different areas, such as fire prevention and protection, product safety, and systems safety. But in general, they share common responsibilities. They work with Health and Safety Managers and other team members to help create processes, technology, and systems with the intent to mitigate workplace or consumer injuries. They ensure workers are protected from a wide range of hazards, including dangerous chemicals, various types of moving machinery, certain product usage, or exposure to particular environments. 
 
Health and Safety Engineers must keep up with countless local, state, federal, or international policies, codes, and regulations. It’s their job to ensure workplace compliance to all requirements and to identify risks and areas of non-compliance through routine and unannounced evaluations. They may make recommendations for improvements based on best practices, work with managers during investigations of accidents, or help organizations develop technical solutions to pass external inspections.

Rewarding Aspects of Career
  • Helping organizations improve processes and training to keep workers safe
  • Minimizing workplace and consumer mishaps, accidents, and injuries
  • Helping organizations avoid costly litigation through preventative measures 
  • Improving morale, productivity, and ultimately profits
  • Protecting valuable property and equipment from preventable damage
  • Exposure to the entirety of an organizations’ work processes
2018 Employment
27,000
2028 Projected Employment
28,400
The Inside Scoop
Job Responsibilities

Health and Safety Engineers perform many of their duties out from behind their desks, traveling to worksites to talk with workers, inspect equipment, evaluate processes, and investigate incidents. They can expect full-time work, with the potential for additional hours when an accident happens or a major inspection is coming up. 


Typical Duties

  • Stay on top of all related company, state, federal, and international policies
  • Assist with internal inspections to ensure work centers are in compliance
  • Design new processes, technologies, and equipment that meets safety criteria
  • Look for hazards and assist supervisors with developing safety training programs for equipment operation
  • Suggest personal protective equipment for particular work environments and hazards
  • Closely review buildings and products with an eye for non-compliance issues
  • Raise awareness of potential hazards and risks to supervisors and management
  • Install or oversee installation of relevant safety equipment; suggest personal protective equipment procurement and use
  • Conduct thorough investigations into mishaps and accidents; maintain logs of assessments; generate preventative measures and follow-up to check that they are implemented

 
Additional Responsibilities

  • Specific roles call for unique responsibilities
    • Fire prevention engineers deal with fire prevention and suppression measures
    • Product safety (or compliance) engineers ensure products comply with safety regulations
    • Systems safety engineers work with a range of system designs
  • All Health and Safety Engineers may be expected to respond to emergencies when needed
  • Minimize impact on production and work processes during inspections and investigations
  • Participate in worker’s compensation assessments
  • Stay abreast of state, federal, and international codes, standards, and regulations, and comply with reporting procedures for accidents or other issues 
Skills Needed on the Job

Soft Skills

  • Strong leadership and confidence
  • Ability to direct the actions of others under a variety of conditions
  • Ability to see the “big picture” of how minor details affect larger processes
  • Able to focus in noisy or hectic environments
  • Attention to details
  • Clear communication skills 
  • Active listening
  • Compliance- and safety-oriented
  • Critical thinking
  • Deductive reasoning
  • Initiative and “can do” attitude
  • Investigative
  • Organized and precise
  • Patience and empathy
  • Problem-solving
  • Teaching skills
  • General understanding of psychology 

Technical Skills

  • Anthropometric databases
  • Computer-aided design 
  • Electronic design automation 
  • Fire safety inspection and testing software
  • Incident tracking 
  • Material safety data sheet (MSDS) software
  • MATLAB
  • Roof support design software
  • Root cause analysis software
  • Various safety, health, and environmental management programs
  • Static strength prediction software
  • Virtual interaction simulators
  • Microsoft Access and Excel
  • Use of air samplers, dynamometers, torque sensors, oxygen gas analyzers, pressure indicators, radio frequency identification devices, and sound measuring equipment
Different Types of Organizations
  • Manufacturing and construction    
  • Governmental/military agencies
  • Various engineering services    
  • Consulting
Expectations and Sacrifices

There is no shortage of risks associated with worker safety and well-being. No matter what business an organization is in, there are always potential workplace hazards. From the environments where employees spend their time to the equipment and processes they use, an endless array of problems can arise. Health and Safety Engineers bear an enormous responsibility to those workers and to the companies that employ them to ensure things are done in a way that minimizes danger and increases productivity. 
 
The duties don’t stop there, though. Companies that make products which are sold to consumers are accountable for making certain those products are safe to use or that customers understand how to properly and safely use them. The brand’s reputation is on the line and can be shattered when unexpected incidents occur. Thus the engineer’s job can extend beyond the boundaries of where they physically work. Per O-Net, 39% of Health and Safety Engineers report “high” levels of responsibility related to the health of others, and 52% report “very high” levels. 71% report working more than 40 hours per week, so overtime seems like a sacrifice to expect. 

Current Trends

The Bureau of Labor Statistics Health expects job growth to be at 5%, the same as the national average for all jobs. In the coming years, plan to see continued focus on wellness in the workplace as employers look for ways to cut down employee stress. Stress is a major factor in many accidents, in part because it takes away focus. Allowing workers a little decompression time can pay dividends when it reduces injuries, missed work, and potential litigation. In addition, Health and Safety Engineers may be tagged to capture employee feedback more effectively, using technology to make the process easier and faster (such as mobile apps that workers can use to report issues).  
 
Speaking of technology, constant changes in tech affect the job market. Advances can cause the elimination of certain human-performed jobs while at the same time create new openings. When this happens, engineers can assist with finding realistic ways to retrain or upskill impacted current employees versus recruiting new ones. This is a win-win for everyone. Other trends include finding better methods of utilizing data to inform decision-making and help reduce costly risks, while integrating wearable “smart” personal protective equipment and Internet of Things innovations to monitor employee activities for safety purposes. 

What kinds of things did people in this career enjoy doing when they were young...

Good Health and Safety Engineers are interested in the intersection between helping others and complying with rules. As such, they may have been sticklers for things like wearing helmets, eating healthy, and avoiding dangerous activities. Most likely, in their earlier years workers in this field were considered very responsible for their age, and perhaps had younger siblings or held babysitting jobs where they were charged with taking care of others. 
 
It’s possible some experienced an incident in their own lives which raised their awareness of the importance of health and safety concepts. On the other hand, perhaps they simply enjoyed organizing activities, keeping things on schedule, and maintaining positive control over situations so that others could relax and have fun. Other traits that may have developed early on would include strong academic skills with a focus on solid research, proper formatting, and meeting deadlines. A large part of Health and Safety Engineering obviously has to do with how people engage with their environment and each other, requiring interests in psychology, workplace sociology, biology, physical sciences, and other topics. 

Education and Training Needed
  • O-Net notes that 55% of Health and Safety Engineers hold at least a bachelor’s degree; 10% have a post-secondary certificate, too
    • Majors include environmental health and safety, or engineering (electrical, mechanical, industrial, etc.)
  • Dual BS/MS programs can be helpful to land better-paying jobs after graduation 
  • Co-op work experience is sometimes preferred by employers
  • Professional Engineering (PE) licensure leads to greater responsibility later in one’s career
    • A PE must pass two exams:
    • Fundamentals of Engineering (FE)
    • Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam
  • Professional certifications include the following:
    • The Board of Certified Safety Professionals:
      • Certified Safety Professional
      • Occupational Health and Safety Technologist
      • Associate Safety Professional
    • The American Board of Industrial Hygiene:
      • Certified Industrial Hygienist
    • The American Society of Safety Professionals:
      • Certificate in Safety Management
    • The International Council on Systems Engineering:
      • Certified Systems Engineering Professional
Things to look for in a program
  • Think about which area you want to specialize in before deciding on a program
  • Ensure any engineering program is accredited by ABET
  • Consider five-year dual bachelor’s/master’s degree program options
  • Review each program’s selling points, such as faculty accomplishments, research facilities and labs, career services, alumni network, scholarships, and ties to industry
  • Get ahead of the curve by taking classes related to technological trends and innovations
  • Check if programs offer coursework which can help with any of the above certifications
Things to do in High School and College
  • Lay a solid foundation in high school by taking plenty of math and science, including chemistry, biology, and physics courses
  • Technical writing and strong reading comprehension are valuable skills to develop
  • IT-skills play a major role in this industry. Review the Skills Needed on the Job overview above for a refresher on which programs you may need to become familiar with
  • Get a jump start by taking transferable community college credits during high school 
  • Seek out any opportunities to learn, through internships or volunteering to help related workers in your school or at your job site
  • Get familiar with reading technical material for comprehension
  • Watch health and safety videos that can help visually flesh out the concepts you read
  • Find professional organizations that offer mentorship opportunities
How to land your 1st job
  • Decide early on which subfield you want to focus on, so you can tailor your education and other experiences to position you for the right job
  • Start your job search at any of the popular portals, Glassdoor, Indeed, Monster, or SimplyHired. Government jobs can be found at USAJobs, but pay close attention to their often-rigorous application guidelines. Other sources include LinkedIn and ZipRecruiter
  • Attend job fairs at your university, speak with your school’s career center for help with resume and interview prep, and ask your program about their recruiter connections
    • Many companies partner with university programs to recruit the best graduates
  • Carefully read through job postings and look for keywords and requirements, then customize your resume to match what each specific employer is looking for
  • Snag some free Health and Safety Engineer resume template ideas online!
  • After you submit applications, expect calls. Answer your phone professionally and update your voicemail message, if needed
  • Scour your social media to ensure it looks professional, too. Yes, companies do sometimes look at applicants’ online presence as part of their evaluation 
  • Before you’re called for an interview, brush up on the organization’s functions as they pertain to the job you want. Be able to speak about how your experiences make you the best match for their specific needs
    • Get an idea of what to expect at your interview by reading blogs that list common interview questions for Health and Safety Engineer candidates
How to Climb the Ladder
  • As mentioned, it is important to know early on what areas you want to specialize in and to gain academic and work experiences that’ll make you an expert
  • Set concrete goals and milestones; ask mentors to help you outline a unique career path
  • Don’t get so caught up in your area that you neglect to learn about others. Learn the roles of other engineers and how your areas of responsibility overlap or connect
  • Pay your dues, put in the overtime, and learn as much as you can. Demonstrate a strong commitment to developing methods that keep workplaces safe and increase profits
  • Finish professional exams, applicable certifications, and a graduate degree if promotion requirements dictate
  • Think globally and get creative! Follow the latest international trends and be willing to introduce exciting new concepts to management 
    • Check out Forbes’ How Google's Strategy For Happy Employees Boosts Its Bottom Line
  • Learn the technical ropes. Master software programs relevant to your job, including ones you don’t currently use but which could be beneficial to try out
  • Keep getting noticed! Demonstrate consistent, effective problem-solving skills by implementing well-researched solutions
Recommended Resources

Websites

  • Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology 
  • Air and Waste Management Association
  • American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists 
  • American Board of Industrial Hygiene
  • American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists 
  • American Industrial Hygiene Association
  • American Institute of Chemical Engineers 
  • American Public Health Association
  • American Society of Safety Engineers 
  • American Society of Safety Professionals
  • ASTM International
  • Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics
  • Board of Certified Safety Professionals 
  • International Council on Systems Engineering
  • National Society of Professional Engineers

Books

  • Safety Professional's Reference and Study Guide, by W. David Yates
  • Occupational Safety and Health for Technologists, Engineers, and Managers, by David L. Goetsch 
  • Safety, Health, and Environmental Concepts for the Process Industry, by Michael Speegle
  • Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity, by Joseph Allen and John Macomber 
Plan B

If Health and Safety Engineering isn’t the perfect match for you, don’t worry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists many similar occupations such as:

  • Construction and Building Inspectors
  • Fire Inspectors
  • Industrial Engineers
  • Mining and Geological Engineers
  • Occupational Health and Safety Specialists and Technicians
  • O-Net also offers a few related occupations, like:
  • Agricultural Engineers
  • Chemical Engineers 
  • Energy Engineers
  • Food Scientists and Technologists

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