Individuals can study occupational safety and health at the associate's, bachelor's and master's degree levels, with courses covering various ways to prevent accidents and other dangerous situations. Most programs look at government regulations and safety agencies. They also teach students to develop programs to lessen risk to employees and set goals to promote safety. Some programs call for internships, research projects and safety workshops.
Associate of Applied Science in Safety and Health Technology
Associate's degree programs at community colleges provide formal training for people currently working in the safety field or for entry-level applicants. A high school diploma or GED is required for admission.
Programs cover theoretical and applied approaches to learning about state and federal health and safety standards. Graduates will generally be able to promote risk management goals, reduce hazards and prevent harm to workers, property and the environment. They can maintain records, design precautionary programs and respond effectively to emergency situations.
Associate's degree candidates must usually take general education courses that cover topics such as the fundamentals of written and verbal communication, chemistry, applied algebra and trigonometry, computer proficiency, behavioral science, arts and humanities. Degree-specific courses in industrial hygiene, construction safety, blueprint reading and health and safety regulations are available. Other course offerings include:
- Recognizing and controlling hazards
- Occupational safety and ergonomics
- Physical plants and health risks
- Environmental law and regulation
- Workers' Compensation and risk analysis
- Business management and communications
Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety and Environmental Health
In these bachelor's degree programs, behavioral and applied sciences, occupational safety, hygiene and risk management are combined with other knowledge and skills for effective leadership. Candidates learn to anticipate, evaluate and control occupational hazards and environmental health risks. Graduates may go on to work as safety managers in various industries or pursue further professional education. A high school diploma or GED is required for admission. Students must also have acceptable SAT or ACT scores and/or two-year school transcripts.
School curricula cover technical and management studies, as well as the instruments and procedures used to perform safety-related duties and leadership skills. In addition to general education and supporting course requirements, there may be internships, electives and capstone projects that allow students to concentrate on areas of specialization or interest. In addition to coursework covering fire safety and hazardous materials, other courses include:
- Principles of occupational safety and health
- Construction sites and safety
- Legislation and Workers' Compensation
- Risk analysis
- Managing safety and health programs
Master of Science in Occupational Safety and Environmental Health
Master's-level programs cover safety, industrial hygiene and environmental concerns. On-the-job training, participation and interaction with others in professional organizations and at conferences may be incorporated into the training program. Some programs offer optional concentrations in homeland security, fire and emergency services, emergency management, occupational safety or ergonomics. A bachelor's degree, acceptable GRE scores and letters of recommendation may be required for admission.
A practicum, workshops, oral defense of a thesis, independent study and completion of a research paper or a comprehensive written exam are required for most master's degree programs. Students also take courses relating directly to investigations, reports, analyses, concerns, issues, protection and assessments of occupational and environmental safety. Core course topics include fire prevention and protection, institutional and corporate safety, introduction to security issues and communications as well as:
- The human element and accident prevention
- Construction safety management
- Materials and product safety
- Motor fleets: risk management and maintenance
- Environmental and chemical safety
- Occupational epidemiology
Popular Career Options
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), occupational health and safety technicians may work in public- and private-sector hospitals, manufacturing firms, scientific/technical consulting services, mining and waste management (www.bls.gov). Seasoned or novice professionals can fill a variety of jobs. Positions open to graduates of associate's degree programs include:
- Hazardous waste specialist
- Health and safety technician
- Environmental manager
- Chemical handler
- Risk management officer
Safety professionals use a wide range of management, engineering and scientific skills. They can work in large consulting firms, as independent consultants or as risk managers in private industries or public and federal agencies. Some bachelor's degree program graduates begin their careers as a (n):
- Safety manager
- Hazard material consultant
- Loss control representative
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspector
- Insurance investigator
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that occupational health and safety technicians would experience 9% growth in available jobs between 2014 and 2024, which is faster than average compared to other fields. Technological advances in safety equipment, changing regulations and public awareness of increasing threats are expected to drive expansion in the field. According to the BLS, health and safety technicians who have business knowledge, along with expertise in more than one component of health and safety, should have the best employment prospects. As of May 2015, the BLS reported that the mean annual salary of occupational health and safety technicians was $51,270.
Industry leaders may value employee participation in the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP) credentialing process. Its educational standard requires the candidate to hold at least a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. BCSP serves as a clearinghouse for professional associations that provide continuing education safety programs to members.
Graduates of an undergraduate or graduate accident prevention degree program can enter careers ranging from hazardous waste specialist to consultant or risk management officer. Certification is also available through the Board of Certified Safety Professionals.