Occupational health and safety technicians collect data on the safety and health conditions of the workplace. Technicians work with occupational health and safety specialists in conducting tests and measuring hazards to help prevent harm to workers, property, the environment, and the general public.

Duties

Occupational health and safety technicians typically do the following:

  • Inspect, test, and evaluate workplace environments, equipment, and practices to ensure they follow safety standards and government regulations
  • Collect samples of potentially toxic materials
  • Work with occupational health and safety specialists to fix hazardous and potentially hazardous conditions or equipment
  • Evaluate programs on workplace safety and health
  • Educate employers and workers about workplace safety
  • Demonstrate the correct use of safety equipment
  • Investigate incidents and accidents to identify what caused them and how they might be prevented in the future

Technicians conduct tests and collect samples and measurements as part of workplace inspections. For example, they may collect and handle samples of dust, mold, gases, vapors, or other potentially hazardous materials. They conduct both routine and special inspections that an occupational health and safety specialist orders.

They test and identify work areas for potential health and safety hazards. Technicians may examine and test machinery and equipment such as scaffolding and lifting devices to be sure that they meet appropriate safety regulations. They may check that workers are using required protective gear, such as masks and hardhats. Technicians also check that hazardous materials are stored correctly.

In addition to working to maintain employee health and safety, technicians work with specialists to increase worker productivity by reducing the number of worker absences and equipment downtime. These actions save companies money by lowering insurance premiums and workers’ compensation payments, preventing government fines, and improving productivity and product quality.

Although all occupational health and safety technicians work to maintain the health of workers and the environment, their responsibilities vary by industry, workplace, and types of hazards affecting employees. For example, a technician may test the levels of hazards at a waste processing plant or may inspect the lighting and ventilation in an office setting. Both of these inspections are focused on maintaining the health of the workers and the environment.

The following are examples of types of occupational health and safety technicians:

Health physics technicians work in places that use radiation and radioactive material. Their goal is to protect people and the environment from hazardous radiation exposure.

Industrial or occupational hygiene technicians examine the workplace for health hazards, such as exposure to lead, asbestos, pesticides, or contagious diseases.

Mine examiners inspect mines for proper air flow and potential health hazards such as the buildup of methane or other harmful gases.

Work Environment: 

Occupational health and safety technicians held about 12,600 jobs in 2012.

Occupational health and safety technicians work in a variety of settings, including offices, factories, and mines. About 19 percent worked for state and local governments in 2012. Others worked in hospitals; management, scientific and technical consulting services; and support activities for mining. Most private companies either employ their own occupational health and safety workers or contract with firms that provide such services.

Their jobs often involve considerable fieldwork and travel. In addition, occupational health and safety technicians may be exposed to strenuous, dangerous, or stressful conditions. Injuries are minimized by the use of gloves, helmets, and other safety equipment.

Work Schedules

Most occupational health and safety technicians work full time. Some technicians may work weekends or irregular hours in emergency situations.

Education and Training: 

Occupational health and safety technicians typically enter the occupation through one of two paths. Some technicians learn through on-the-job training; others enter with postsecondary education such as an associate’s degree or certificate.

Education

Employers typically require technicians to have at least a high school diploma. High school students interested in this occupation should complete courses in English, mathematics, chemistry, biology, and physics.

Some employers may prefer to hire technicians who have earned an associate’s degree or certificate from a community college or vocational school. These programs typically take 2 years or less. They include courses in respiratory protection, hazard communication, and material handling and storage procedures.

Postsecondary programs include instruction on standard laws and procedures; however, some on-the-job training is usually required to familiarize the technician with specific work environments.

Occupational health and safety technicians can become occupational health and safety specialists by earning a bachelor’s or advanced degree.

Training

Technicians usually receive on-the-job training. They learn about specific laws, inspection procedures, conducting tests, and recognizing hazards. The length of training varies with the employee’s level of experience, education, and the industry where they work.

Some technicians enter the occupation through a combination of related work experience and training. They may take on health and safety tasks at the company where they are employed at the time. For example, an employee may volunteer to complete annual workstation inspections for an office where they already work.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Certification is not required to become an occupational health and safety technician; however, many employers encourage it.

To apply for certification, technicians must have a high school diploma, related on-the-job experience, and pass a standardized health and safety exam. The Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP) offers the following certifications at the technician level:

Construction Health and Safety Technician Certification (CHST) requires the applicant to have specific education or experience in construction safety. These technicians protect workers on construction sites from injury or illness.

Occupational Health and Safety Technologist Certification (OHST) is designed for workers who perform occupational health and safety tasks full- or part-time as part of their job duties.

Safety Trained Supervisor (STS) certification is geared toward first-line supervisors or managers. These workers are not safety practitioners but take on the certification in addition to their other job duties. This certification requires 1 year of supervisory experience.

Important Qualities

Ability to use technology. Occupational health and safety technicians often work with computers and complex testing equipment.

Communication skills. Occupational health and safety technicians must be able to work with specialists to collect and test samples of possible hazards, such as dust or vapors, in the workplace.

Detail oriented. Occupational health and safety technicians must be able to understand and adhere to specific safety standards and government regulations.

Physical stamina. Occupational health and safety technicians must be able to stay on their feet for long periods of time and to travel on a regular basis.

Problem-solving skills. Occupational health and safety technicians must be able to use their skills to find solutions to unsafe working conditions and environmental concerns in the workplace.

Pay: 

The median annual wage for occupational health and safety technicians was $47,440 in May 2012. 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 $28,920, and the top 10 percent earned more than $75,200.

Most occupational health and safety technicians work full time. Some technicians may work weekends or irregular hours in emergency situations.

Job Outlook: 

Employment of occupational health and safety technicians is projected to grow 11 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. New environmental regulations and technological advances will require new or revised procedures in the workplace.

Increased adoption of nuclear power as a source of energy may lead to job growth as new regulations and precautions need to be enforced. Technicians will be needed to collect and test data to maintain the safety of both the workers and the environment.

Insurance and workers’ compensation costs have become a concern for many employers and insurance companies. Because older workers usually have a greater incidence of workers’ compensation claims, these costs can become larger with an aging population remaining in the workforce longer. Occupational health and safety technicians will be needed to work with occupational health and safety specialists in maintaining safety for all workers.

Although most occupational health and safety technicians work under the supervision of specialists, technicians can complete many routine tasks with little or no supervision. As a result, some employers may operate with more technicians because they are more cost effective than specialists.

Job Prospects

Occupational health and safety technicians with knowledge in more than one area of health and safety along with knowledge of general business functions will have the best prospects.

For More Information: 

For more information about occupational health and safety technicians, visit

Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA)

For information on industrial or occupational hygiene, visit

American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA)

For information on credentials for industrial or occupational hygiene technicians and operators, visit

AIHA Registry Programs

For information on health physics, visit

Health Physics Society

For more information on careers in safety and a list of safety and related academic programs, visit

Board of Certified Safety Professionals

Information about jobs in federal, state, and local governments and in private industry is available from state employment service offices.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2014–2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh.