In August 2021, the United Nations released a landmark report warning of catastrophic global warming if countries fail to take serious measures to limit human impact on the environment. As the U.S. government implements policies in hopes of slowing the rising of sea levels and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, organizations must quickly comply with the new rules.
Environmental health and safety managers play a vital role in helping industries reduce their impact on the environment amid ever-changing legislation. They also help companies uphold their ethical responsibility to keep workers safe.
Organizations must adapt to constantly changing environmental and safety laws. For example:
- Responding to an emergency temporary standard (ETS) due to COVID-19
- Updating standards on working surfaces (floors, scaffolds, stairs, ladders, roofs, ramps and other surfaces where employees work or walk)
- Implementing new restrictions on power plant emissions
Every day, efficient and responsible organizations stay vigilant to keep up with emerging regulations. These organizations rely on environmental health and safety managers, who oversee compliance with environmental and workplace safety regulations. Environmental health and safety managers closely follow governmental agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to track regulatory shifts.
Based on their findings, environmental health safety managers update company policies and procedures to ensure compliance. They also study an organization’s environmental impacts to improve compliance and manage any liabilities.
To protect workers, environmental health and safety managers look for potential dangers in a work environment that could harm employees:
This could involve evaluating equipment and making recommendations for upgrades. It could also involve identifying and managing chemical, biological, or radiological hazards or reassessing processes that pose potential hazards to workers.
Environmental health and safety managers have various responsibilities. The tasks they perform typically concern the following.
Environmental health and safety managers evaluate work procedures and processes to make sure they align with industry standards and best practices. They seek out ways to make procedures and processes more efficient, which can both improve productivity and increase safety.
For example, they might modify procedures that require workers to move between workstations, walking under potentially dangerous machinery on the way. Making processes safer can cut down on unnecessary interruptions that slow productivity. It can also lower the chances of injury.
Environmental health and safety managers strive to ensure their organizations achieve their health, safety, and environmental objectives. To that end, they implement various strategies including:
Behavior-based initiatives: These programs aim to lower safety risks and workplace incidents through safety observations. Workers conduct reviews of their peers with a focus on safety behaviors. They then share their findings about safe and unsafe behaviors and workplace conditions and discuss ways to increase safety.
Auditing: Safety audits assess organizational practices to determine the effectiveness of a safety program. They help management prioritize areas needing attention and offer clarity on the current state of processes and procedures. They also shed light on trouble spots where procedures need new design. Additionally, they allow for tests that measure if procedures are working as intended.
OSHA outlines requirements for safety training programs for each industry. These programs run the gamut from emergency evacuation training to training in the handling and storage of hazardous materials.
Environmental health and safety managers implement and oversee safety training programs to build robust safety cultures in their organizations. These training programs may educate employees about:
- On-site hazards
- Company safety rules
- Methods for detecting and fixing hazards in a work area
- Work practices that control exposure to potential hazards
- Reporting hazards
- Use of personal protective equipment
According to OSHA, an incident is “an unplanned, undesired event that adversely affects completion of a task.” Some incidents involve near misses when a serious accident is narrowly avoided. Environmental health and safety managers then analyze these events.
For instance, did the near miss occur despite the completion of required inspections? Was everyone properly trained? Answering these questions can help organizations determine what went wrong and prevent worse scenarios from happening in the future.
Some incidents damage property and cause injuries or even death. In these cases, emergency health and safety managers initiate emergency responses and investigations. The investigations aim to uncover missed hazards, or hazards that safety measures failed to control.
In general, environmental health and safety managers take the following steps to enter the field.
Environmental health and safety managers need to earn at least a bachelor’s degree in industrial hygiene or occupational health and safety. A technical degree, such as one in engineering, or a degree in biology or chemistry can also serve as a starting point. A bachelor’s degree provides foundational knowledge in occupational safety as well as important scientific knowledge.
While not always required, many environmental health and safety manager positions require a master’s degree in industrial hygiene or a related subject, such as health physics. An advanced degree in industrial hygiene prepares graduates to assess hazards using chemistry, statistics, and engineering principles. It also develops expertise in creating and managing programs that protect employees and the environment.
The level of responsibility environmental health and safety managers take on demands experience. Most positions require a minimum of five years’ work experience in environmental health and safety. This helps ensure job candidates understand the profession’s core responsibilities, including regulatory compliance, auditing, and safety training.
Some environmental health and safety managers opt to earn specialized certifications. The Board of Certified Safety Professionals offers various certifications, including Safety Trained Supervisor and Safety Management Specialist. To obtain them, candidates need a certain number of years of work experience in health and safety. They also need to pass an exam.
To effectively perform their work, environmental health and safety managers need to develop diverse skills and competencies, including:
Environmental health and safety managers help ensure their organizations comply with a host of regulations and policies mandated by the federal and state governments. Therefore, having a strong familiarity with those regulations and policies is imperative. They also must possess investigative skills to stay on top of any changes and additions to such mandates.
Assessing risks and devising procedures and processes that limit them requires the ability to examine and analyze information carefully. Conducting incident investigation also demands the ability to accurately evaluate data and come up with solutions.
Environmental health and safety managers balance many responsibilities. They must manage various permits (environmental, safety, and operating), which requires strong organizational skills. Staying on top of shifting rules, audit and inspection schedules, equipment maintenance, and ongoing training programs also calls for time management and prioritization.
Effective communication allows environmental health and safety managers to train workers on environmental, health, and safety issues. When conducting audits or initiating behavior-based programs, environmental health and safety managers need excellent communication skills to give clear feedback, explain the process, and answer questions.
Environmental health and safety managers earned a median annual salary of $76,340 in May 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Top earners made $112,850 a year. The BLS also projects that positions in the field will grow 4 percent between 2019 and 2019. This is in line with the average growth rate for all occupations.
Environmental health and safety managers protect the planet and save workers from injuries and accidental death. They also play an instrumental role in helping organizations stand out as upstanding and law-abiding corporate citizens.
Discover how Tulane University’s Online MSPH in Industrial Hygiene trains leaders in environmental health and safety to create cultures of safety in the workplace.