Environmental hygienists create workplace safety guidelines for workers and companies that deal with hazardous materials in potentially hazardous environments. They may also coordinate large-scale cleaning efforts for situations like oil spills and other environmental disasters. Environmental hygienists fall into the category of occupational health and safety specialists. These professionals should be detail-oriented and should have communication skills, problem-solving skills, and physical stamina. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupational health and safety specialists, as a group, earned a median annual wage of $70,210 in 2015.
Career Requirements at a Glance
|Degree Level||Bachelor's degree; master's for positions with larger firms or government|
|Degree Field||Environmental health|
|Licensure and Certification||Not required but recommended|
|Median Salary (2015)||$70,210 (for occupational health and safety specialists)|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Earn Bachelor's Degree
Many entry-level hygienists possess a bachelor's degree in environmental health and safety fields. Environmental health science programs include coursework in chemistry, soil science, hazardous waste, and environmental issues. Choosing a degree program that includes internship participation can help with finding a career in this field.
While certification is not required for all jobs in this industry, employers generally prefer credentialed workers. Certifications are awarded by national boards and are provided for various specializations. Individuals who work with radiation in industrial settings or air pollution in domestic locations might consider obtaining different credentials. Designations related to environmental hygiene include those for:
- Certified health physicists
- Council-certified indoor environmentalist
- Council-certified indoor environmental consultant
- Certified industrial hygienist
- Certified associate industrial hygienist
Join Professional Organization
Although not mandatory, joining a trade organization related to environmental hygiene provides opportunities for workers to stay current with industry trends. For example, the National Environmental Health Association offers a platform for hygienists to publish reports, circulates information about funding opportunities, provides continuing education training, and facilitates networking among members.
Pursue Graduate Degree
Larger firms and government agencies may prefer hygienists with graduate degrees. Common degrees for this profession include a master's degree or doctorate in public health, industrial hygiene, or environmental science. Depending on the specialization, coursework can include toxicology, risk assessment, human exposure, and contaminant prevention. Many programs include a practicum or internship element that allows graduate students to gain environmental hygiene experience from real-world situations.
Whether for professional development or to fulfill certification renewal requirements, continuing education courses help professionals stay up-to-date with current practices. Individuals may attend seminars that discuss new ways of treating hazardous materials, innovative technological advances, and changes with safety protocols. Professional organizations, universities, and community colleges offer continued education coursework either as semester-long classes or weekend training seminars.
Again, environmental hygienists are occupational health and safety specialists who typically need at least a bachelor's degree in a field such as environmental health before they can gain a position in the industry.