Should I Become a Certified Industrial Hygienist?
Certified industrial hygienists, also known as occupational health and safety professionals, evaluate safety issues in working environments and implement solutions to these occupational hazards. Specifically, these professionals identify particular health hazards within the workplace, such as pesticides, communicable diseases, asbestos, noise, and lead.
The majority of occupational health and safety specialists, including certified industrial hygienists, work full-time. Hours may include evenings, weekends, and nights, especially during times of crisis. These professionals travel frequently to sites and work in a wide range of environments, indoors and out. This job carries some risks, so hygienists are required to use protective clothing, gear, and equipment to keep themselves safe.
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|Degree Level||Bachelor's degree standard; master's degree required for some positions|
|Degree Fields||Industrial hygiene, occupational health and safety, biology, chemistry, engineering, physics|
|Experience||Varies; some positions may require just 1 year of experience; others require at least 3 to 5 years|
|Certification||Certification is optional|
|Key Skills||Strong communication and problem-solving skills, detail oriented, physical stamina, ability to use complex testing equipment|
|Salary||$77,770 per year (2015 median salary for all industrial hygienists)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Board of Industrial Hygiene, Online Job Posting (August 2015), Salary.com (August 2015)
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
Relevant bachelor's programs prospective industrial hygienists may complete include occupational health, chemistry, biology, engineering and physics. The American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH) has specific requirements regarding coursework that students must take in order to become a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH). Regardless of their major, students must take 180 academic contact hours of specific industrial hygiene courses. Of these 180 academic hours, at least half must be related to the broad subjects of fundamentals of industrial hygiene, controls, measurements and industrial hygiene toxicology. Remaining coursework may address hazards, such as confined spaces, lead, asbestos and mold.
- Complete an internship. Most bachelor's degree programs in industrial hygiene or occupational health and safety offer opportunities for internships. These experiences can occur in a variety of settings, such as government, business and industry. By participating in an internship, students can gain practical work experience and learn more about the responsibilities of an industrial hygienist.
- Develop excellent interpersonal and communication skills. These skills are needed to communicate safety concerns and instructions to both employees and managers. Aspiring industrial hygienists must also be able to work closely with technicians. To enhance these skills, students can take advantage of public speaking and psychology courses.
Step 2: Complete On-The-Job Training
On-the-job training is needed to learn the various applicable laws and inspection techniques of various work environments. Training will be specific to the environment in which an individual works. For example, an industrial hygienist who works in a factory will receive different training than one who works in an office setting. During the beginning of training, individuals are supervised by an experienced professional. Depending on the complexity of the job, supervision may last up to one year.
Step 3: Earn Certification
Most employers prefer to hire industrial hygienists who have earned certification as a CIH. The ABIH is the organization that offers the examination needed to become a CIH. To be eligible for the CIH exam, candidates must have a bachelor's degree from an accredited university that includes completion of specific coursework related to industrial hygiene, have professional field experience and provide two professional work references.
Step 4: Maintain Certification
The CIH certification must be renewed every five years. The certification maintenance process consists of multiple steps and involves a point system set up by the ABIH. The points can be gained through further educational courses, teaching, mentoring, attending conferences, giving presentations, authoring and participating in committees, as well as general professional work. Hygienists can also choose to retake the examination rather than achieve certification maintenance credits.
Step 5: Consider a Master's Degree for Career Advancement
Although a bachelor's degree will qualify one for many jobs as an industrial hygienist, obtaining a master's degree may be needed for more advanced positions, and can make one eligible for leadership roles. Individuals can pursue master's programs in a variety of disciplines, including industrial hygiene, occupational and environmental health sciences, occupational hygiene and public health. Coursework for these graduate programs includes applied biostatistics, evaluation of chemical hazards, essentials of public health and environmental sampling and analysis.