Chemicals without proper labeling, poorly maintained tools, equipment in need of repair — an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) consultation found these and other hazards threatening employee safety at a Nebraska-based oil filtering systems company. Such safety issues contribute to the nearly 3 million workplace injuries that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports happen every year. The company under review did not want to add to the statistics, so they turned to industrial hygiene experts to help them build a safer work environment and culture. The result? Their workplace injuries and illnesses dropped to zero.
Organizations depend on industrial hygiene professionals to safeguard worker health and safety and uphold environmental standards. A master’s in industrial hygiene cultivates the expertise needed to further any number of careers in the field.
Work environments often present a range of stress factors that can affect employees’ health. Everything from high noise levels to constant vibrations from a machine take their toll on a worker’s body and can lead to health consequences.
If not handled properly, the presence of corrosive chemicals, toxic fumes, and industrial dust particles also present risks to workers’ safety, as well as to the natural environment. Managing potentially harmful aspects of a work environment requires an in-depth understanding of what can constitute a hazard. It also requires comprehensive knowledge of how to recognize hazards and select strategies for fixing them. Industrial hygiene involves anticipating, identifying, assessing, and controlling a workplace’s environmental factors and operational procedures that can cause illness or compromise employees’ well-being and safety.
For example, professionals in the field may consider how lighting can affect worker alertness or how noise from machinery can affect worker hearing.
Industrial hygiene professionals also examine procedural methods that can lead to safety incidents or harm employee’s health or the environment, and develop processes that minimize risks to people, property, and the environment.
Compensation in the industrial hygiene field can vary according to several factors, such as position, job location, and years of experience. However, the median annual salary of master’s in industrial hygiene degree-holders is about $85,000, according to PayScale data as of July 2021. Salaries for degree-holders range between $61,000 and $117,000 a year.
An array of positions exists within the industrial hygiene field, each with its own unique focus. Consider the following industrial hygiene positions, along with their responsibilities, education and skill requirements, and salaries and job outlooks.
Industrial hygienists identify and analyze workplace hazards and conditions that compromise employee health or create significant discomfort. This involves environmental monitoring, or the process of measuring the amount of potentially harmful substances in a workplace. As an example, industrial hygienists may conduct air sampling to determine the presence of unsafe particulates or unhealthy levels of chemicals. In addition to environmental monitoring, industrial hygienists devise ways to eliminate the hazards or put into place safety measures that safeguard workers from them. So, in response to poor air quality tests, industrial hygienists may order the installation of a stronger ventilation system and implement a mask-wearing policy.
The types of hazards industrial hygienists address include:
- Chemical hazards, such as cleaning products, acids, paints, and gases
- Biological hazards, such as substances from people, plants, and animals, including bodily fluids or mold
- Physical hazards, such as excessive exposure to the sun, extreme temperatures, or radiation
- Ergonomic hazards, such as repeated movements or positions that strain the body
To resolve health and safety issues, industrial hygienists undertake many tasks. These range from ensuring their organization follows occupational health and safety regulations to writing reports about work safety. Also key to an industrial hygienist’s work are the creation of qualitative assessments and quantitative assessments.
Industrial hygienists conduct different types of tests to monitor a workplace’s safety. During a qualitative assessment, for example, an industrial hygienist observes employees, looking for instances in their work process that expose them to any of the hazards described above.
Quantitative assessments, on the other hand, involve the use of instruments, such as heat stress monitors, to obtain readings about a work environment. Industrial hygienists often use mathematical models to calculate a worker’s exposure to hazards. They also may determine hazard exposure with a sampling device that collects the gases or vapors in a worker’s environment and measures them.
From these tests, industrial hygienists assess whether worker exposures to hazards exceed safe levels. They use OSHA safety standards as reference points as well as company policies and local regulations.
If industrial hygienists’ findings show work conditions do not meet safety and health guidelines, they implement measures to fix the problems identified. Typically, industrial hygienists use a combination of administrative and engineering controls.
Engineering controls physically isolate or remove hazards from workplaces to significantly lower the risks they pose. Examples of these controls include installing fume hoods that help filter the air, drafting specific procedures for disposing of hazardous materials, or requiring workers to wear specialized safety gear.
Administrative controls involve informing employees of dangers and teaching them how to manage those dangers. They include making work procedures safer, training, and signage.
To shoulder the responsibilities placed on them, industrial hygienists need an advanced education and a good deal of experience. At a minimum, the position requires a bachelor’s degree in industrial hygiene or a related discipline, such as chemistry or biochemistry.
Many organizations prefer to hire industrial hygienists with a master’s in industrial hygiene. This degree offers coursework that extensively covers techniques for managing workplace hazards and delves into methods for identifying hazard exposures and risks.
In addition to a master’s degree, many employees want certified candidates. The American Board of Industrial Hygiene offers a professional certification.
An aspiring industrial hygienist’s success also relies on cultivating relevant skills including:
To resolve safety issues and select the most effective administrative and engineering controls, industrial hygienists need to carefully analyze hazards. They also need to think creatively to find the best solutions for the problems identified.
Industrial hygienists must inspire confidence in both employees and managers to successfully implement their programs. This requires leading cooperative efforts to implement training, change procedures, and establish new policies.
Certified industrial hygienists have a median annual salary of around $101,000, according to PayScale data as of August 2021. Top earners make as much as $137,000 a year. The BLS classifies industrial hygienists as occupational health and safety specialists. The BLS projects the number of positions in the field will grow 4 percent between 2019 and 2029. This aligns with the average growth rate projected for all occupations.
Occupational health and safety specialists help lead companies’ efforts to establish robust environmental health and safety programs. They blend their industrial hygiene and management expertise to design, implement, and enforce policies that keep workers safe and prevent damage to the environment. Occupational health and safety specialists play an important role in helping organizations comply with OSHA regulations. These regulations address worker safety and health, and outline requirements regarding employee training, safe work practices, protective equipment, record keeping, and hazard monitoring. Some specific OSHA requirements include:
- Placing guards on machines to protect workers from sharp or moving parts
- Supplying respirators or other protective gear for certain hazardous work
To enforce compliance with its regulations, OSHA follows up on employee complaints related to worker health and safety. It also responds to accidents and performs unannounced inspections. Occupational health and safety specialists use their OSHA regulation expertise to protect workers and help their organizations avoid citations and heavy fines, which can run as high as nearly $14,000 per violation.
Overseeing their organization’s environmental health and safety programs requires occupational health and safety specialists to assume diverse responsibilities. Core job duties include:
Audits and inspections help occupational health and safety specialists build cultures of safety in their organizations. Inspections involve a systematic workplace check to:
- Assess the presence of necessary safeguards
- Determine if equipment poses any hazards
- Collect water or air samples to measure for safety
- Observe work behaviors and assess them for best practices
After conducting and documenting safety inspections, occupational health and safety specialists use the results as a tool to fix and eliminate problems. This may involve addressing improperly labeled chemicals or workers’ failure to use proper protocols when operating machinery.
Safety audits involve reviewing safety strategies and training to see how well they meet company safety goals. In this way, occupational health and safety specialists can identify gaps in safety programs that potentially leave workers vulnerable to accidents.
Performing their own audits and inspections prepares organizations for successful OSHA audits and inspections. It gives occupational health and safety specialists a clear picture of their safety standing, which allows them to make any necessary strategic changes.
Safety incidents refer to unintended events in the workplace that cause injury or property damage. Similarly, near-miss incidents refer to unintended events that could have easily resulted in injury or property damage but by chance did not. Occupational health and safety specialists document, track, and investigate both of these types of events. This allows them to identify any trends in safety incidents and root out what is causing them.
For example, an incident investigation may uncover that a falling object during maintenance operations caused a worker injury. An occupational health and safety specialist might use this incident to anticipate other scenarios that might cause falling objects and then put in place safety measures to prevent them from happening.
Occupational health and safety specialist positions require at least a bachelor’s degree in occupational health and safety or a related field, such as biology or engineering. However, most employers seek professionals with a master’s degree in industrial hygiene.
This advanced degree provides a comprehensive education in occupational health and safety, covering topics relevant to the job such as chemical and ergonomic hazard controls.
Like industrial hygienists, occupational health and safety specialists can benefit from getting a professional certification in the field. In addition to the American Board of Industrial Hygiene’s certification, they may also explore obtaining one of the Board of Certified Safety Professionals’ certifications.
These certifications each come with their own set of requirements regarding education and work experience. They also require the successful completion of a competency exam. Important occupational health and safety specialist skills include:
Educating workers about safety standards requires the ability to clearly express safety concepts and instructions. Occupational health and safety specialists also need excellent communication skills to prepare reports and advocate for their safety programs to management.
Conducting audits and inspections demand close attention to detail. Occupational health and safety specialists also need to keep track of a complex web of government regulations and safety standards, which requires an astute eye and strong organizational skills.
In May 2020, occupational health and safety specialists had a median annual salary of $76,340, according to the BLS. The highest earners made over $112,850 a year.
The BLS anticipates 4 percent job growth in the field between 2019 and 2029, on track with the average growth rate projected for all occupations.
Environmental health and safety managers serve as the corporate world’s “environmental stewards,” according to the National Association for Environmental, Health, Safety, and Sustainability Management. These professionals push for vigorous environmental policies that reduce their organization’s carbon footprint. They also seek out ways to improve ergonomics, air quality, and other workplace conditions to promote employee safety and health.
Like other industrial hygiene professionals, environmental health and safety managers help their organizations comply with OSHA regulations and with environmental regulations issued by government agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency.
They use their management skills and knowledge of scientific concepts and engineering controls to develop policies and practices in their organizations that protect people and the planet.
Environmental health and safety managers perform many duties to help ensure their organizations effectively protect worker health and safety, and the natural environment. Their responsibilities include:
Many of today’s investors and customers screen corporations based on their environmental stewardship. They only want to interact with organizations whose environmental practices align with their values. This often means that, to gain their business, companies need to extend their environmental standards beyond minimum legal requirements.
In recent years, environmental health and safety managers have played an increasingly active role in assisting organizations in reaching more aggressive sustainability and environmental goals. To that end, environmental health and safety managers develop and lead initiatives to assess the environmental impact of their organization’s operations. They then devise practices that help minimize or eliminate any harm to soil, air, and water.
This may involve exploring alternative processes that reduce toxic emissions. Environmental health and safety managers may find substitute materials that do not pose a risk to workers or the environment. They may also investigate more environmentally friendly methods for waste disposal.
To properly understand safety procedures and standards, hazards and risks, and protocols that avoid environmental harm, workers need training. Environmental health and safety managers develop and deliver training programs on everything from avoiding chemical spills to compliance with waste, water, and air regulations.
To determine knowledge gaps among employees in various areas of environmental health and safety, they may first conduct an analysis through surveys, interviews, and inspections. Then, they can better prioritize training needs.
Though some environmental health and safety managers hold only a bachelor’s degree, most positions require a master’s degree in industrial hygiene or a related field such as environmental safety. Earning a master’s degree in the field helps job candidates build relevant expertise in areas such as environmental health and applied engineering principles.
In addition to an advanced degree, environmental health and safety managers typically need about five years of experience in the field before assuming their leadership role. They may also find it beneficial to get certified. The Board for Global EHS Credentialing offers the CPEA, certified professional environmental auditor. Requirements for the certification include:
- A bachelor’s degree
- Training in areas such as environmental compliance
- Several years of experience in the field
Successful environmental health and safety managers cultivate keys competencies such as:
Assessing training gaps, safety risks, and environmental hazards demands close analysis and the ability to apply various concepts in the field. Environmental health and safety managers also need to troubleshoot solutions that fix safety problems.
To advocate for the resources required for necessary programs, environmental health and safety managers must make their case to company leaders. This involves building relationships and open lines of communication, as well as effectively communicating a vision.
Environmental health and safety managers have a median annual salary of $85,152, according to PayScale data as of August 2021. Top earners make as much as $119,000 a year.
The BLS classifies environmental health and safety managers as occupational health and safety specialists. Job growth of 4 percent is projected in the field between 2019 and 2029, in line with the average growth projection for all occupations.
Industrial hygiene technicians play a critical role in occupational health and safety teams. They work alongside industrial hygienists and occupational health and safety specialists toward the common goal of safeguarding worker safety and health.
Like their colleagues in the field, industrial hygiene technicians inspect, measure, and analyze safety hazards. However, their work focuses more specifically on testing a work environment’s day-to-day conditions.
Whereas industrial hygienists and occupational health and safety specialists focus more broadly on audits, inspections, incident investigations, and regulatory compliance, industrial hygiene technicians concentrate their efforts on conducting assessments that shed light on work conditions in real time. This involves testing:
- Work environments
- Worker practices
For example, an industrial hygiene technician working in a mine may check the airflow in the mining tunnels for any dangerous gas buildup. An industrial hygiene technician working at a construction site may monitor electrical equipment to ensure it is properly grounded.
During the assessment of work environments and development of programs that help protect workers from injury and illness, industrial hygiene technicians assume several responsibilities key to their departments’ success. Some address:
Based on their assessments, industrial hygiene technicians assemble technical reports. They then analyze their reports and develop safety policies.
These policies address potentially hazardous workplace conditions and outline procedures for prevention and reporting. Preventive safety procedures may include training or safety drills. Reporting safety procedures clarify who notifies management and emergency personnel of safety incidents. As an example, a reporting procedure might indicate who calls the ambulance if a worker falls.
Since an organization’s operations can change, industrial hygiene technicians must regularly reassess and revise safety policies to ensure they account for any shifts.
When industrial hygienists introduce new safety policies, they need to make sure workers understand them. This requires education. Industrial hygiene technicians may conduct workshops that train employees in safe lifting techniques, proper power tool storage, or how to safely handle hazardous materials. Additionally, they may conduct safety drills, such as fire evacuations or shelter-in-place exercises.
Industrial hygiene technicians need a bachelor’s degree in industrial hygiene or in a discipline such as engineering. Though not required, earning a master’s in industrial hygiene can help open up additional career opportunities for industrial hygiene technicians. It can expand knowledge on topics such as health risk assessments and techniques for measuring exposure to hazards.
The Board of Certified Safety offers several certifications that may apply to an industrial hygiene technician’s work. Which certification is most appropriate for a particular technician depends on their specific work environment. For example, the construction health and safety technician certification may best apply to an industrial hygiene technician working in construction. Important skills for an industrial hygiene technician include:
Industrial hygiene technicians work in teams. This requires them to collaborate effectively, get along with others, listen closely, and receive and provide constructive criticism.
To write reports and clearly communicate their findings, industrial hygiene technicians need solid oral and written skills. They also need strong communication skills to successfully train employees in safety policies and conduct effective safety drills.
In May 2020, industrial hygiene technicians had a median annual salary of $53,340, according to the BLS. The highest earners made over $89,780 a year. The BLS expects the number of positions for industrial hygiene technicians to grow 5 percent between 2019 and 2029. That outpaces the average job growth projection for all occupations.
Industrial hygiene professionals’ work has made a huge impact on worker health and safety. BLS data shows that, in 1970, 38 workers died a day. In 2019, that number dropped to 15. As expertise in the field expands, industrial hygiene professionals can make further strides.
Discover how Tulane University’s master’s in industrial hygiene prepares graduates to succeed in numerous careers in the field.