How to Become a Certified Industrial Hygienist: Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a certified industrial hygienist. Research the education and training requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in industrial hygiene.

Do I Want to Be 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. The job carries more risk than many professions and specialists are required to use protective clothing, gear, and equipment to keep themselves safe.

Job Requirements

Earning a bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement for certified industrial hygienists, and some positions may require a master's degree. Work experience and the completion of on-the-job training are also needed for this career field, with many employers preferring candidates who have obtained certification. The following table contains the main qualifications that are needed for certified industrial hygienists.

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree is standard; some positions require a master's degree*
Degree Fields Industrial hygiene, occupational health and safety, biology, chemistry, engineering, physics**
Certification Certification is not required, but many employers list certification as desirable***
Experience 3-5 years of experience***
Key Skills Strong communication skills, problem-solving skills, detail oriented, physical stamina*
Computer Skills Knowledge of Microsoft Office***
Technical Skills Ability to use complex testing equipment and forms of advanced technology*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ** American Board of Industrial Hygiene, ***Job posting by employers (December 2012).

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

While a bachelor's degree is the minimum educational requirement necessary for this career, this degree does not have to be in a specific subject. There are a variety of majors that include the courses that can help aspiring industrial hygienists build the skills needed for this role. These majors include safety and industrial hygiene, chemistry, biology, engineering, physics, and occupational health.

The American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH) has specific requirements regarding coursework that must be taken in industrial hygiene if one is considering becoming 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. Examples of content these types of courses must cover includes the negative effects that chemicals have on humans, recognizing a variety of hazards and stressors in the workplace and measuring and controlling chemical, physical, biological and ergonomic hazards in the work environment. Remaining coursework can cover other aspects related to industrial hygiene, such as confined space entry, lead, asbestos and mold.

Success Tips

  • Complete an internship. While internships are not required, some employers may view candidates who have completed an internship more favorably. Most bachelor's degree programs in industrial hygiene or occupational health and safety offer opportunities for internships for students. 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. Most employers value strong communication and interpersonal skills when considering candidates for this career. 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: Consider a Master's Degree

Although a bachelor's degree will qualify one for many jobs as an industrial hygienist, some positions may require a master's degree. Earning a master's degree may make one eligible for leadership positions in this career field. One 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, environmental health and environmental sampling and analysis.

Step 3: Complete On-The-Job Training

On-the-job training is needed to learn the various applicable laws and inspection techniques of various work environments. The training one receives will be specific to the environment in which he or she 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 this training, individuals are supervised by an experienced professional. Depending on the type of training one receives, supervision may last up to one year.

Step 4: 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 to take this examination, one must meet specific requirements. These requirements include having a degree from an accredited university, completing specific coursework related to industrial hygiene, having professional experience in the field and providing two professional work references.

Step 5: 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. One can also choose to retake the examination rather than achieving certification maintenance credits. Practicing ethically and paying annual fees are additional components of the recertification process.

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