Health and safety engineers develop procedures and design systems to protect people from illness and injury and property from damage. They combine knowledge of engineering and of health and safety to make sure that chemicals, machinery, software, furniture, and other products will not cause harm to people or damage to property.

Duties

Health and safety engineers typically do the following:

  • Maintain and apply knowledge of current health and safety policies, regulations, and industrial processes
  • Review plans and specifications for new machinery and equipment to make sure that they meet safety requirements
  • Identify and correct potential hazards by inspecting facilities, machinery, and safety equipment
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of various industrial control mechanisms
  • Ensure that buildings or products comply with health and safety regulations, especially after an inspection that required changes
  • Install safety devices on machinery or direct the installation of these devices
  • Review employee safety programs and recommend improvements

Health and safety engineers also investigate industrial accidents and injuries to determine their causes and to determine whether the incidents were avoidable or can be prevented in the future. They interview employers and employees to learn about work environments and incidents that lead to accidents or injuries. They also evaluate the corrections that were made to remedy violations found during health inspections.

Health and safety engineering is a broad field covering many activities. The following are examples of types of health and safety engineers:

Fire prevention and protection engineers conduct analyses and make recommendations regarding the potential fire hazards of buildings, materials, and transportation systems. They also design, install, and maintain fire prevention and suppression systems and inspect systems to ensure that they meet government safety regulations. Fire prevention and protection engineers must be licensed and must keep up with changes in fire codes and regulations.

Product safety engineers, sometimes called product compliance engineers, develop and conduct tests to make sure that various products are safe and comply with industry or government safety regulations. These engineers work on a wide range of products, from nuclear submarine reactors and robotics to cell phones and computer systems.

Systems safety engineers identify and analyze risks and hazards associated with system designs in order to make them safe while ensuring that the systems remain operational and effective. They work in many fields, including aerospace, and are moving into new fields, such as software safety, medical safety, and environmental safety.

For information on health and safety engineers who work in mines, see the profile on mining and geological engineers.

Work Environment

Health and safety engineers held about 27,000 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of health and safety engineers were as follows:

Manufacturing 25%
Construction 15
Government 13
Engineering services 9
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 4

Health and safety engineers typically work in offices. However, they also must spend time at worksites when necessary, which sometimes requires travel.

Work Schedules

Most health and safety engineers work full time.

Education and Training

Health and safety engineers must have a bachelor’s degree, typically in environmental health and safety or in an engineering discipline. Employers value practical experience, so cooperative-education engineering programs at universities are valuable as well.

Education

Entry-level jobs for health and safety engineers require a bachelor’s degree, typically in environmental health and safety or in an engineering discipline, such as electrical, chemical, mechanical, industrial, or systems engineering. Bachelor’s degree programs typically include classroom, laboratory, and field studies in applied engineering. Engineering students interested in becoming health and safety engineers also should take courses in occupational safety and health, industrial hygiene, ergonomics, or environmental safety. ABET accredits programs in engineering.

Many colleges and universities offer cooperative-education programs, which allow students to gain practical experience while completing their education.

A few colleges and universities offer 5-year accelerated programs through which students graduate with both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. A master’s degree allows engineers to enter the occupation at a higher level, from which they can develop and implement safety systems.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Licensure is not required for entry-level positions as a health and safety engineer. A Professional Engineering (PE) license, which allows for higher levels of leadership and independence, can be acquired later in one’s career. Licensed engineers are called professional engineers (PEs). A PE can oversee the work of other engineers, sign off on projects, and provide services directly to the public. State licensure generally requires

  • A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Relevant work experience, typically at least 4 years
  • A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam

The initial FE exam can be taken after one earns a bachelor’s degree. Engineers who pass this exam are commonly called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After meeting work experience requirements, EITs and EIs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE).

Each state issues its own licenses. Most states recognize licensure from other states, as long as the licensing state’s requirements meet or exceed their own licensure requirements. Several states require continuing education for engineers to keep their licenses.

Health and safety engineers can earn professional certifications, including the following:

Personality and Interests

Health and safety engineers typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a health and safety engineer, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Health and safety engineers should also possess the following specific qualities:

Creativity. Health and safety engineers are asked to produce designs showing potential problems and remedies for them. They must be creative to work with unique situations during each project.

Critical-thinking skills. Health and safety engineers must identify potential hazards and problems before they cause material damage or become a health threat. Thus, these engineers must be able to sense hazards to humans and property wherever they may arise in the workplace or in the home.

Observational skills. Health and safety engineers must observe and learn how operations function so that they can identify risks to people and property. This type of observation and learning requires the ability to think in terms of overall processes within an organization. Health and safety engineers can then recommend systemic changes to minimize risks.

Problem-solving skills. In designing solutions for entire organizational operations, health and safety engineers must take into account processes from more than one system at the same time. In addition, they must try to anticipate a range of human reactions to the changes they recommend.

Reading skills. Health and safety engineers must be able to interpret federal and state regulations and understand the goals of those regulations so that they can propose proper designs for specific work environments.

Pay

The median annual wage for health and safety engineers was $91,410 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $53,650, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $143,880.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for health and safety engineers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Engineering services $99,410
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 97,110
Government 89,250
Manufacturing 89,140
Construction 79,570

Most health and safety engineers work full time.

Job Outlook

Employment of health and safety engineers is projected to grow 5 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Health and safety engineers are employed mainly in construction, manufacturing, state and local government, and engineering and consulting firms. As buildings, products, and processes continue to become more complex and new regulations are created, these engineers will be needed to reduce costs, save lives, and produce safe consumer products.

For More Information

For information about general engineering education and career resources, visit

American Society of Safety Professionals

Technology Student Association

For more information about accredited engineering programs, visit

ABET

For more information about the Professional Engineer license, visit

National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying

National Society of Professional Engineers

For information about protecting worker health, visit

American Industrial Hygiene Association

For information about certification, visit

American Board of Industrial Hygiene

American Society of Safety Engineers

Board of Certified Safety Professionals

International Council on Systems Engineering

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FAQ

Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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