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Safety and health: whose job is it?

More than 3,500 workers die each year in work r4elated accidents, and another 6 million are injured. Environmental pollution causes an unknown number of illenesses. Radiation, defective products, unhealthy food, and diseases add to the total. That's the bad news.

The good news is that our work and community environment have improved over the years, and, today, you are far less likely to die or sick fromn accident or poisoning than in the past. The major reason is increased attention to safety and health by both government and industry. Each employs an army of professionals to help increase the odds that you will survive in this complex--and dangerous--world. This article is about some of these professionals--what they do, how they are trained, and where you can write for more information about them.

When you think about it, safety and health are a part of many--maybe most--jobs. The mechanic who fixes your car's brakes, the firefighter, the bus driver, even the plumber, each is concerned about safety and health to one degre or another. However, this article focuses on professional workers whose major concern is safety and health. Included are ecologists, ergonomists, health and regulatory inspectors, health physicists, industrial hygienists, pollution control engineers, public health microbiologists, safety professionals, and sanitarians. You could no doubt think of others, but these specialists have traditionally been looked to for expertise in this field.

In looking over the jobs covered in this article, you migh ask how the work of safety professionals differs from that of health professionals. The answer is that the distinction has faded over the years. Safety in plants used to be associated with dangerous machinery. As toxic substances in the work place took on increased importance, the health of the workers became a focus of attention. The term health also refers to the evaluation of the toxicity of consumer products and the protection or restoration of the environment.

Because safety and health are so closely connected, professionals with a wide range of backgrounds work in these fields, and many of their areas of expertise overlap. For instance, safety pofessionals, particularly safety engineers, often work in plants, but so do industrial hygienists. Sanitarians may be called upon to check on a radiation problem, but that is also the purview of the health physicists. Each of these workers is trained in a somewhat different way; and although they tend to specialize, each can be found across a wide spectrum of the health and safety field. Complicating things further, people doing substantially the same job are often known by different job titles. On one point, however, there is agreement: These occupations offer growing opportunities.

Safety Professionals

Safety--in a community, a building, or a work site--has many facets: Fire protection, machine design, health, and accident prevention education, to mention just a few. Most large organizations, those with 500 or more workers, employ a full-time safety professional to oversee this complex process. The job requires not only a thorough technical knowledge of the organization's processes and equipment but also an understanding of industrial technology, preventive medicine, human factors engineering, and safety laws.

The job of the safety professional has broadened over the years. Once, it involved no more than fire extinguisher placement, guards for machinery, housekeeping inspections, and, perhaps, the compilation of accident data. As processes have become more complicated, however, so has the complexisty of the job, as indicated by a title widely used today, safety engineer. Other titles for safety related workers include hazard control specialist, loss control manager, safety professional, and fire protection engineer. Fire protection engineers design or recommend fir control systems, ascertain the causes of fires or other disasters, and train fire fighting teams. Larger companies sometimes employ a safety manager or director. They plan and oversee safety programs, although in smaller plants they may implement the program, too. The safety manager may handle an array of related functions. These could include occupational health, environmental control, workers' compensation, and plant security. Good management techniques, as well as technical skills, are very important for work at this level.

The influence and responsibility of the safety professional are growing daily. Product safety of consumer goods is one fast-growing area. The mechanical and computer issues involved with the use of industrial robots is another. Perhaps most striking is the increasing focus on occupational health, including the removal of toxic waste and compliance with environmental regulations.

Given the wide range of responsibilities in this field, it's not surprising that safety professionals have a wide range of backgrounds; no one route is recommended for entry into the field. Some professionals worked their way up and are self-made, but this is not a viable route today. The safety field has typically been associated with engineering, and this has become a common entry route. Most people who enter this way supplement their engineering background with courses and seminars in safety. With increased emphasis on occupational health, an industrial hygiene background is also appropriate for this work, particularly in firms where toxic chemicals are as much of a hazard as the machinery.

More than 100 college offer degrees in safety and related fields, such as environmental health engineering. Employment opportunities at the entry level are best for graduates with these degrees, and colleges report good placement rates for graduates. However, students should select from among these schools carefully because not all of them provide the mathematical and physical science courses needed to meet professional certification requirements. The Board of Certified Safety Professionals offers the designation CSP to professionals who meet stringent academic, examination, and experience requirements. This certification is not required to work as a safety professional, but it is a recognized credential for full professional status in this field.

For career information and a list of colleges offering programs in this field, write American Society of Safety Engineers 1800 East Oakton St. Des Plaines, IL 60018

Industrial Hygienists

Industrial hygienists are trained to recognize and control occupational and environmental health hazards and diseases. For example, they may collect samples of dust or other toxic materials for analysis; or they might investigate the adequacy of ventilation, lighting, or other conditions that may affect employee health or efficiency.

Industrial hygiene jobs are closely related to safety. Hygienists at the full professional level often function as safety engineers. They prepare recommendations, review processes from a health and safety engineering viewpoint, and oversee safety education.

Safety professionals and hygienists do similar work, but the emphasis of the hygienist is on exposure to noise, chemicals, or biological hazards that cause health problems rather than on the causes of accidents, such as dangerous machinery. These distinctions are fast fading, however, and professionals from both disciplines are employed in both private industry and government.

Many hygienists work for agencies of the Federal Government, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the Food and Drug Administration.

The minimum qualification for a professional hygiene job is usually a bachelor's degree, as a rule in engineering, physical science, biological science, or natural science. Beginners learn from on-the-job experience and often take supplemental short courses. About 20 colleges offer undergraduate programs in industrial hygiene, but most formal training in hygiene is at the master's level, which is increasingly the norm for this profession. Hygienists who meet experience, education, and examination standards can be certified by the American Board of Industrial Hygiene.

For more information and a list of schools offering training in this field, write American Industrial Hygiene Association P.O. Box 8390, 345 White Pond Dr. Akron, OH 44320

Health and Regulatory Inspectors

More than 130,000 inspectors and compliance officers enforce a wide range of regulations that protect the public health and safety. Depending upon their employer, inspectors vary widely in title and responsibilities, but most work for government agencies. Sanitarians are perhaps the best known of the health officers, although many more workers are engaged in related jobs that require less formal education.

Because of the diversity of functions, qualifications for inspector and compliance officer jobs differ greatly. Requirements are a combination of education, experience, and a passing grade on a written examination. Employers generally prefer applicants with college training, including courses related to the job. All inspectors and compliance officers are trained in applicable laws and inspection procedures through a combination of classroom and on-the-job training.

Following are examples of the important jobs carried on by these government inspectors.

Agricultural commodity graders examine product samples to determine quality and grade and issue official grading certificates. Graders may also inspect the plant and equipment to maintain sanitation standards. Agricultural commodity graders hired by the Federal Government are rated solely on their experience and education; no written examination is required.

Agricultural quarantine inspectors protect American agricultural products from the spread of foreign plant pests and animal diseases. They inspect ships, railroad cars, and other vehicles entering the United States for restricted or prohibited plant and animal materials.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is the major employer of agricultural quarantine inspectors. Agricultural quarantine inspectors hired by the Federal Government are rated solely on their experience and education; no written examination is required.

Consumer safety inspectors periodically check firms that produce, store, and market food, drugs, and cosmetics. They look for inaccurate product labeling and for decomposition or chemical or bacteriological contamination that could result in a product becoming harmful to health. They user portable scales, cameras, ultraviolet lights, container sampling devices, thermometers, chemical testing kits, radiation monitors, and other equipment to ascertain violations. They also compile evidence to be used in court if necessary.

The largest single employer of consumer safety inspectors is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but the majority work for State governments.

Food inspectors inspect meat, poultry, and their byproducts to insure that they are wholesome and safe for public consumption. Working as an onsite team under a veterinarian, they inspect meat and poultry slaughtering, processing, and packaging operations. They also check for correct product labeling and proper sanitation.

Most food inspectors and agricultural commodity graders in processing plants are employed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Food inspectors must have related experience and pass an examination based on specialized knowledge.

Occupational safety and health inspectors visit places of employment to detect unsafe machinery and equipment or unhealthy working conditions; mine inspectors do substantially the same work at mines and may direct rescue and firefighting operations when fires or explosions occur. Applicants for mine safety inspector positions generally must have experience in mine safety, management, or supervision, or possess a skill such as that of an electrician (for mine electrical inspectors).

Federal regulatory inspectors work in regional and district offices throughout the United States. The Department of Defense employs many quality control inspectors. The Environmental Protection Agency employs inspectors to verify compliance with pollution control laws. Occupational safety and health inspectors and mine inspectors work for the Department of Labor and for many State governments.

Sanitarians do much the same types of work that industrial hygienists do, but the sanitarian focuses on infractions of environmental and sanitation regulations, particularly as they relate to food processing and service. In contrast to industrial hygienists, sanitarians work mostly for State and local governments. They are also known as registered sanitarians and environmental health specialists, professionals, or inspectors.

Sanitarians check the purity of food and beverages produced in dairies and processing plants or served in restaurants, hospitals, and other institutions. They often examine the handling, processing, and serving of food and oversee the treatment and disposal of sewage, refuse, and garbage. In addition, inspectors examine places where pollution is a danger, test for pollutants, and collect air, water, or waste samples for analysis. They determine the nature and cause of pollution and initiate action to stop it.

Most States require registration for responsible jobs in the public sector. Prerequisites for taking the registration examination are generally a bachelor's degree in sanitary, environmental, physical, or biological science and 1 or 2 years of work experience. In some States, students in environmental health programs accredited by the National Accreditation Council for Environmental Health Curricula can take the examination upon graduation. The National Environmental Health Association also offers registration; those who pass the examination can use the initials R.S. (Registered Sanitarian) after their name.

Very few undergraduate degree programs are offered today in sanitary science. The educational emphasis has shifted to programs in environmental science, which offer somewhat broader preparation for environmental careers; about 20 colleges and universities offer undergraduate programs accredited by the National Accreditation Council for Environmental Health Curricula.

Career information in this field and a list of accredited undergraduate programs can be obtained from National Environmental Health Association 720 South Colorado Boulevard Denver, CO 80222

Public Health Microbiologists

Public health microbiologists are concerned with harmful substances in water food and the environment; but, in contrast to sanitarians, their work is concentrated in the laboratory. They typically conduct laboratory tests on bacteria, viruses, fungi and other forms of life, and recommend measures to control pollution and prevent the spread of diseases. Some microbiologists specialize in environment, food, agricultural or industrial microbiology, virology (study of viruses), or immunology (study of mechanisms that fight infections).

Beginners with a bachelors's degree in biology or microbiology can sometimes start in testing and inspection jobs, but advanced training is usually necessary for research positions. For career information, write American Society for Microbiology Office of Education and Training 1325 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Washington, DC 20005


In general, these biological scientists study the relationships between organisms and their environment. This work encompasses a wide range of activities, and most ecologists specialize in a particular area. For example, there are plant, animal, terrestrial, and aquatic ecologists. Ecologists also may study fundamental ecological principles (basic ecologists), or may study ecological changes brought about by influences such as pollutants, climate changes, and land management activities (applied ecologists). Many applied ecologists are engaged in determining the environmental impact of actions proposed by industry and government or correcting environmental problems.

The vast majority of ecologists work for government agencies, colleges, or universities. Many Federal biological scientists work for the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior. Some ecologists work in commercial or nonprofit research and development laboratories.

The Ph.D. degree is the minimum requirement for most jobs, although a master's degree is sufficient for some jobs in applied research and inspection and service work.

Most colleges and universities offer bachelor's degrees in biological science and many offer advanced degrees. Curriculums for advanced degrees often emphasize a subfield such as microbiology or botany. However, specialization in a single form of life is being deemphasized in favor of the study of basic biochemical and genetic life processes.

For career information in ecology, write Ecology Society of America Center for Environmental Studies Arizona State University Tempe, AZ 85287

Pollution Control Engineers

This field is much broader than the job title implies. Pollution control engineers, who are also known as environmental engineers, plan and conduct studies to measure the chemical makeup and concentration of pollutants and map out a strategy for reducing them. They also design and test the effectiveness of pollution devices and advise on compliance with regulations. Specialties include radiation protection, industrial hygiene, storm water management, solid waste disposal, water supply, and public health; in short, nearly any field involving health and safety of workers and the community. Their job title may reflect their specialty, as is the case with air quality engineer, noise abatement engineer, water quality control engineer, public health engineer, industrial hygiene engineer, hazardous waste management engineer, or solid waste management engineer.

Pollution control engineers work for a wide range of employers, such as engineering consulting firms, universities, testing laboratories, government agencies, and all types of industry. Many are employed by the Federal Government in the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, the Department of the Interior, and the Army Corps of Engineers. Manufacturing firms often hire these workers as consultants, to advise on planning and overseeing the construction of pollution control equipment.

The minimum entry requirement for this profession is a BS degree in engineering--preferably civil, chemical, mechanical or environmental. However, a master's degree in environmental engineering is becoming increasingly important for entry jobs. A small number of colleges offer undergraduate degrees in environmental engineering, but many other schools offer elective courses in environmental science and environmental health engineering. The American Academy of Environmental Engineers offers numerous short courses to supplement the practical experience required to become fully qualified in this field.

Engineers whose work may affect the health and safety of the public must be registered as Professional Engineers (PE). This requires an engineering degree, 4 years of acceptable work experience, and successful completion of a two-part 16-hour examination. The first part of the examination may be taken upon graduation, and engineers who pass are known as engineers-in training (EIT).

For career information and a list of schools offering programs in pollution control engineering, write

American Academy of Environmental Engineers 132 Holiday Court, Suite 206 Annapolis, MD 21401

Health Physicists

What do radon, medical x-rays, and nuclear waste disposal sites have in common? They are among the numerous sources of dangerous radiation, the special concern of interdisciplinary specialists known as health physicists. With backgrounds in physics, chemistry, biology, and medicine, they detect, monitor, and protect plant and laboratory workers who come in contact with nuclear reactors, high energy accelerators, and radioisotopes. Demand for these workers exceeds the supply, according to the Health Physics Society.

Professional status as a health physicist requires at least a BS degree in one of the sciences, with specialized courses in physics, mathematics, chemistry, nuclear engineering, medical physics, radiological health and radiation biology. More than 40 universities offer degrees in health physics and related fields.

For more information and a list of colleges and universities offering programs in this field, write

Health Physics Society 8000 Westpark Dr. Suite 400 McLean, VA 22102


Fifty years ago every tennis ball was white; today they're all yellow. The reason for the change is ergonomics, the application of biological information to the design of objects and machines. Ergonomists adapt products and environments to the way people move, think, and, in this case, see. These are the people who decide on the height of your automobile seat, the arrangement of numbers on your telephone, and even the color of the paint on your classroom walls.

The ergonomist is partly a psychologist and partly an engineer, and many have one or the other background. They are sometines known by their undergraduate specialty: Human factors engineer or engineering psychologist. They are also referred to as human factors professionals or practitioners. Employment in this very small field is about equally divided between the academic and the private sectors; few are employed by government agencies.

Since ergonomics is an interdisciplinary field, it requires knowledge of design, engineering, safety, anatomy, medicine, and industrial psychology. Graduate training is required for most entry jobs, often with concentrations in industrial or organizational psychology, physiology, or engineering.

For career information and a list of schools offering training in ergonomics, write

Human Factors Society P.O. Box 1369 Santa Monica, CA 90406.
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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Fountain, Melvin
Publication:Occupational Outlook Quarterly
Date:Jun 22, 1991
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