Looking to get a job in the environmental, health, and safety field?
When I was graduating high school, I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t have much guidance, nor did I have many older people around me who went to college. I ultimately went to school for criminal justice, thinking I wanted to be a state trooper.
Shortly before graduation, I realized it was not something I could see myself doing.
By this time, I had friends who graduated with a safety management degree from the same school I was attending. From these friends, I heard more about the opportunities that were available for those who had education or training in the safety field.
I got my first degree in criminal justice and decided to stay in school while working full-time to get a second degree in safety management from Slippery Rock University.
While I don’t know if it is my exact calling for the rest of my life, I am very glad that I bit the bullet and stayed in school to get the safety degree. There is so much opportunity in this field, and I feel that there are so many ways to stand out to really have an incredible and exciting career if you are willing to put in the work. I currently work as a senior loss control specialist, and I really enjoy what I do.
Before getting into how to get a job in the safety field, I want to cover a few quick benefits of doing so.
Should You Get a Job in the Safety Field?
Well, that is not for me or anyone else to decide for you. That is on you. That being said, here are some high-level benefits of getting into the safety field in no particular order.
Benefit #1 Pay
Let’s not kid ourselves- pay is an extremely important factor when picking a career field. Generally, the roles in the safety field pay pretty well. The Safety+Health magazine publishes a salary survey of safety professionals each year.
Their 2020 results stated that the respondents who had less than five years of experience made an average base salary of $70,000. Between five years and fourteen years of experience yielded an average base salary of $91,000. 24% of all 984 respondents reported an average salary of $100k to $124k.
Benefit #2 Options
There are so many different types of opportunities in the safety field. You can do anything from abuse prevention training in elderly care homes to being a safety specialist for nuclear plant construction projects. Just in the survey linked above, there were eleven possible choices of industries that respondents worked in.
I started out as a safety officer for an environmental construction company, and now I am a senior loss prevention specialist for an insurance company that insures transportation companies. While technical know-how is important in specific industries, the baseline safety experience that you gain can be leveraged into many different roles throughout your career.
This is true even outside of safety roles, which brings me to the next benefit.
Benefit #3 Career Trajectory
Roles in the safety field can often lead to higher-level roles over time. Individuals who excel in the safety field can often find success in management positions due to the skills it takes to be successful as an individual contributor over a long period of time.
Safety professionals need to interface with many different departments, and through necessary collaboration, experienced professionals develop an understanding of a variety of business operations. Experience paired with ongoing education and training can lead you to a VP or even C Suite level role.
Benefit #4 Starting Your Own Business
As stated elsewhere in my writing on this website, I believe in entrepreneurs. I think being entrepreneurial, whether that is in your own endeavors or in a larger company, is going to be one of the most sought-after skills in the coming years.
Technology will continue to put pressure on every single type of profession, and being able to be flexible to adjust with coming changes will continue to be vital.
I think a huge net benefit is created when individuals create value in the economy by starting a (successful) business. I always want to put the message out there that safety pros have the option to start their own business. I did it via this website just in my free time, and you can do something similar if you desire.
Owning a business is not easy, but the flexibility and income that come with the path of starting your own business can make it worth the challenges. There are a lot of problems to solve when it comes to the market around workplace safety. After you get some experience and training in the safety field, there is a multitude of options to start your own company.
Safety consulting, safety staffing, online safety training, in-person safety training, selling PPE or other safety supplies, etc., are just a few ideas that you can pursue. Not every career field yields itself as easily to individuals starting companies.
Training and Education to Get Your First Safety Job
So, you are interested in getting a job in the safety field, but you are not sure the best way to go about it.
There is not a single best way to do so, and your life circumstances will dictate what is reasonable for you to do. Here is a list of some of the best ways to get your foot in the door for that first safety role.
- Earn a degree
- Get on-the-job experience
- Get certifications
- Get industry-recognized training
Route #1 – Get On-The-Job Training
Putting in the work the old-fashioned way is still a great way to earn that career in safety. This is the lowest-cost option to get your foot in the door to that first safety job.
Even making the transition to a safety role within your own company can be difficult if you do not take steps to put yourself out there for a role purposefully. The first step is to make it known to those in power that you are interested in taking on safety responsibilities or a full-time role if one becomes available.
A great way to show management that you want to transition into a safety role is to take on safety responsibilities. This could mean volunteering to complete safety inspections in your work area, assisting a safety manager with their responsibilities, or serving on the safety committee.
Reach out to someone in the company who has safety responsibilities and ask how you can get involved.
Route #2 – Earn a Degree
It is not a popular thing to hear, but the most straightforward path to securing a career in the safety field is a four-year degree in a related field. I am a big believer that most education in life occurs outside of the classroom, so don’t mistake me for thinking that those without a degree are any less equipped to perform their role.
The problem is, you are not looking to win me over; you need to win over prospective employers. And the truth is, many companies are requiring a four-year degree for even entry-level safety jobs. If you really want a job in the safety field, then pursue a four-year degree.
Committing the time and money to a four-year degree is no small decision. Earning a two-year degree may be a great way to get the education and credentials needed to get that first job. You may be able to have your employer pay for you to get go back to school and complete a bachelor’s degree.
Should You Get a Masters Degree in Safety?
Maybe you are reading this post, and you already have a two or four-year degree in a completely different field, so you are thinking about getting a master’s in safety to make the transition into this field. If you know that you want a career in safety after working in a safety role, then a master’s program related to safety could make sense to do.
If you already have an undergrad degree in safety but want to pursue higher levels of management, a different master’s program may be the best choice. If you choose to double up and get another safety-related degree, you may be painting yourself into a corner when it comes to future opportunities.
It may make more sense to go after a Masters in Business Administration or something similar. Going this route will ensure that you aren’t only looked at as someone who can do a safety role.
Route #3 – Recognized Industry Training or Certifications
There are many different organizations that put out training and certifications relating to workplace safety. The training options listed below are just a few of the major ones that are commonly requested by employers.
These training options won’t usually be enough to get a role on their own, but paired with some experience, they can make the difference in getting that first role.
Board of Certified Safety Professional Designations
In my opinion, the BCSP designations are the most widely recognized designations in the safety field.
The most popular designations from the BCSP include the Certified Safety Professional (CSP), Associate Safety Professional (ASP), Construction Health and Safety Technician (CHST), and Occupational Health and Safety Technician (OHST). The problem with the four designations just mentioned is that you need prior health and safety experience to be able to get them.
There is one designation offered by the BCSP that is great for those who are trying to get a full-time role in safety in the construction field. This designation is called the Safety Trained Supervisor Construction. Individuals only need 30 hours of health and safety training along with experience working in the construction field to sit for the exam to earn this designation.
OSHA 30 Hour Cards
The OSHA 30-hour cards provide a great base of basic safety knowledge. These cards do not expire and are well-suited for individuals who may be trying to take on some safety responsibilities within their own company. The cost is relatively cheap, which is always a positive. I recommend finding an in-person course to get the most out of the training.
OSHA states that this course is intended for supervisors or for workers who have some safety responsibilities. It provides a greater depth and variety of training on an expanded list of topics associated with workplace hazards than the 10-hour course. There are courses on general industry and construction.
More information can be found by clicking this link.
Other Designations and Certifications
There are plenty of other designations/ certifications offered by third parties outside of just the BCSP. Some of the designations are respected and worthy of your time to get, others not so much. To keep this post short, I am not going to discuss more of these certifications right now.
However, it is important to know that companies like National Safety Council, the American Red Cross, NEBOSH, NATMI, and more that offer potentially valuable certifications depending on what role you are going after in the safety field.
Getting the first role is often the most difficult part of having a successful career in the safety field. Obtaining the experience necessary to go full-time into safety is not a straightforward path and will not be the same for everyone. Sometimes, simply taking on safety responsibilities while in a different role can lead to a full-time safety position.
Other times, you will find yourself constantly getting rejected from companies if you do not have a four-year degree. Consider the advice above to get a plan together on how you can eventually make it to where you want to be in the mid to long term. Your goals and the path to them are different from everyone else’s.
Whatever you decide to do, take the first step today. Do not keep pushing your goals off. Every educated decision and action today will bring you closer to reaching your career goals.
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