A general degree program trains students in areas such as hazardous waste handling, industrial hygiene, accident prevention and investigation of accidents. Bachelor's-level students are also trained in occupational safety administration. Many bachelor's and master's degree programs require internships.
Certification for occupational safety workers is not governed by one organization. Organizations such as the Council of Health, Environmental and Safety Technologists and the Board of Certified Safety Professionals currently offer certification for occupational safety professionals.
ACT or SAT scores are taken into account in admission into undergraduate programs. Master's programs look for students who already have a bachelor's degree and meet minimum math and science requirements, additionally the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) may be required.
Associate of Applied Science in Occupational Safety
An associate's degree program in occupational safety may be geared towards a specific industry, such as oil and gas or construction, or it may provide general occupational safety instruction. Students who complete a general course of study in occupational safety are able to apply for many different types of jobs, but may lack specialized training.
Classes are comprised of general education courses and courses in occupational safety. Occupational safety classes may provide an overview of the field or are specialized towards a certain industry. Some possible courses include:
- Fleet safety
- Hazard control
- Health and safety training
- Emergency measures and risk assessment
- Fire protection and prevention
- General chemistry and biology
Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety
A Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety provides further study in workplace safety assessment and evaluation. It also introduces a managerial component since many graduates of this degree pursue occupational safety administrative positions; this is the key difference between an associate's degree and a bachelor's degree in the field. Generally, this bachelor's program is divided among occupational safety core classes, courses in the physical sciences and mathematics, human relations and management courses and general education classes. After completing the core requirements, students take a certain number of electives. An internship may be available during the final year of enrollment and students are encouraged to complete it if they plan on entering the workforce after graduation.
Required core courses in occupational safety at the bachelor's degree level introduce aspects that can be applied to many different industries. The electives, however, allow students to choose topics that are specific to a particular aspect of occupational safety. Some possible courses include:
- Designing hazard controls
- Occupational safety regulations and standards and hazardous materials
- Safety systems and industrial hygiene
- Human factors
- Fire prevention principles
- Welding and machine safety
Master of Science in Occupational Safety
A Master of Science in Occupational Safety is the highest degree a person can earn in the field. Many master's degree programs allow students to choose an area of specialization, such as occupational safety management, industrial hygiene or environmental safety and health. Core courses in occupational safety are completed during the first year of enrollment and then students take elective classes in their area of concentration. Typically, a master's degree program in occupational safety requires the completion of a thesis, but some universities offer students the option of substituting this requirement with an internship or the completion of a comprehensive examination. Students who want to complete the thesis option should submit a research proposal to their advisor as early as possible.
Many master's degree programs in occupational safety allow for specialized tracks of study. However, core courses in occupational safety management and assessment must be completed first. Possible classes include:
- Legal aspects of safety
- Industrial hygiene
- Loss control management and measurement
- Probability and biostatistics
- Industrial materials and toxicology
- Occupational epidemiology
Job Outlook and Salary Information
Graduates of an associate's degree program in occupational safety will be able to compete for entry-level positions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), the employment of occupational health and safety specialists is expected to increase by 4% for the period from 2014-2024 The median annual salary of an occupational health and safety specialist, also reported by the BLS, is $70,210 as of 2015; although, it should be noted that the salary can change according to industry and years of experience.
Popular Career Options
Occupational safety professionals work in many different kinds of environments. Some may work in hazardous environments, such as steel yards and chemical processing plants, while others work in laboratories and the healthcare industry. Graduates of a bachelor's degree program in occupational safety will be able to apply for entry-level managerial positions as a safety specialist. However, there are other occupational safety career options graduates can pursue. Graduates of a master's degree program in occupational safety can apply for administrative occupational safety positions. Industries that need occupational safety professionals include hazardous waste removal, biotechnology and oil and gas. Some possible career outcomes for students holding either degree include:
- Occupational safety specialist
- Safety manager
- Hazardous waste specialist
- Loss control specialist
- Industrial hygienist
- Environmental waste control manager
Continuing Education and Certification Information
Graduates of an occupational safety degree program who want to earn certification in the field will find that there is no one organization that controls the certification process. Organizations such as the Board of Certified Safety Professionals offer certification but its requirements do not directly mirror those of other organizations, such as the Council of Certification of Health, Environmental and Safety Technologists. However, certification eligibility generally requires that graduates hold a bachelor's degree in the field and have a specific number of years of experience as an occupational safety professional.
At the undergraduate level, students learn about topics including hazardous waste management, safety standards and accident investigation. Graduate programs expand on these and other topics. With internships being a part of both master's and bachelor's programs, graduates leave these programs with not only the knowledge but the hands-on experience to succeed in the field.