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Environmental Health and Safety Blog | EHSWire

Are OSH Professionals Becoming an Endangered Species?

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Nov 7, 2011 4:11:14 AM

Carrie Bettinger, CSP, CHMM

Recently the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) commissioned a survey of the Occupational Safety and Health workforce and published their findings in a document called the National Assessment of the Occupational Safety and Health Workforce.

NIOSH reports that the need for OSH professionals will greatly outweigh the supply in the very near future.  If you minored in economics, like me, then this is a very easy concept of supply versus demand: as more OSH professionals are needed, fewer are beginning OSH careers AND a large proportion of the OSH profession will soon be retiring en masse.  Here are some excerpts from the Executive Summary of the survey:
“The survey shows that currently there are over 48,000 OS&H professionals in the U.S. workforce across the nine disciplines of interest to this study: The composition of the current OS&H workforce is primarily safety professionals (59%), followed by industrial hygienists (15%). The other major disciplines represented in the survey data were occupational health nursing (9%) and occupational medicine (3%).”

“Employers expect to hire over 25,000 OS&H professionals over the next 5 years, needing to fill an average of just over 5,000 positions per year;”

“Employers expect about 10 percent of safety professionals to retire within the next year; for the other OS&H professions the retirement projections are lower. “

“The workforce is graying, more among occupational physicians and occupational health nurses than safety and industrial hygiene professionals; however, we estimate that a large number of OS&H professionals in these disciplines are over the age of 50."

Now as an OSH professional in the middle of her career my first thought on seeing this, of course, is “YAY! JOB SECURITY”!  Perhaps I can even name my salary…ahh, the bliss we all look for in a career.  But then the reality hits you a little harder when you think about what the lack of OSH professionals means not only for businesses, worker safety, and public safety but also the impact it will have on our family of OSH professionals.  We are already such a small community and we rely on each other as mentors, sources of inspirations/ideas, and friends.

So as much as I would like to name my own salary, I’d rather not have that luxury if it means losing this OSH community.  Here are a few ideas that we all can do to help us bring in new blood to our OSH family and strengthen the backbone of Public and Occupational Safety and Health in the U.S.

  • Pass the word to the younger generation -- visit your kid’s (or any kid’s!) school on Career Day or Science Day and talk about what you do.  Local schools are actively seeking professionals in scientific fields to model for their students.  (Be sure to bring some cool equipment with you!)

  • Look for local youth groups, especially those who focus on young people from underprivileged families or communities.  These young people may not be aware of careers that involve environmental work or public health which may also benefit their communities.

  • Hire or inspire a veteran returning from Iraq or Afghanistan to enter the OSH field.  Most returning members of the military have great leadership and organizational skills and are instinctively looking out for unsafe situations.  Plus they will be fearless even when faced with a toolbox safety talks for dozens of half-asleep, grouchy construction workers!

  • Obtaining financial aid for OSH programs has been cited as a barrier for a lot of people going into the field so also pass along information or tips about NIOSH Training Grants that provide financial support for many academic programs in the OSH field. And, please support scholarship programs offered by professional organizations such as the ASSE and its local chapters. If you have an annual giving plan, why not support your own very important industry?

  • Know someone in need of a job or career?  Point them in the direction of an OSH career by talking about the wide range of degrees and certificates in our field.  These added qualifications range from full-on college degrees to focused training in very specific OSH sectors depending on their interest and undergraduate achievement.

Degree Programs

Check out Resource Center for a great listing of college/university programs or look at these:

Certificate Programs

Emilcott EHS professionals have achieved many certificate-driven designations such as CHMM (Certified Hazardous Materials Manager), CIH (Certified Industrial Hygienist), CSP (Certified Safety Professional), PE (Professional Engineer), CHMP (Certified Hazardous Materials Professional) and CHST (Construction Health and Safety Technician).  These certifications and more are offered through universities, online programs, professional organizations and OSHA Training Centers.  Here is a list of some common and industry-recognized certification boards:

Like any educational degree, use caution before pursuing any online certificate program from a private business or school as they may not be seen as valid education by many employers.  If you are unsure, ask your own supervisor or HR department for guidance before enrollment. There are many certificate programs developed for  supervisors already working in industry, such as the California State University Dominguez Hills certification program Occupational Health & Safety for Managers and Supervisors. See if your local college offers something similar. OSHA's website provides information on their Training Centers but also has additional OSH degree and certificate program information. And, a comprehensive directory of possible certifications related to EHS professionals is available from the National Environmental, Safety and Health Association.

Know Your EHS Options and Get Started

Whether you are considering a new career in Occupational Health and Safety or you are looking for a next step in your H&S career, there are many options available for all levels of health and safety professionals from technicians in the field to researchers developing new technologies.  A helpful guide for all levels of current and future health and safety professionals is available through the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP).

At Emilcott, even before the study came out, we could see that the local pool of EHS professionals isdwindling and aging. In response, we have instituted a progressive mentoring program to move recent college graduates into the field, we support advanced degrees and certifications by our staff, we are active in our local chapter, we volunteer at school career day presentations, and were recently featured in a career choice video by the Wall Street Journal.

As a health and safety professional, what are you doing to bring fresh faces into our peer group? As an employer, have you instituted formalized plans to recruit and develop your staff? And, as a peer, how are you reaching out into the community to ensure that this profession remains healthy and growing?
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Topics: NIOSH, General Industry H&S, General EHS, Construction H&S, H&S Training, health and safety profession, mentor, jobs, career, workforce, H&S, certification, degree, occupational health and safety, OSH, assessment

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