Occupational Safety & Health Profession Profile

Definition of Occupation

A profession in which individuals are responsible for analyzing operating procedures, materials, machines and conditions at work sites to determine risks of injury, occupational disease and damage to property and equipment. Safety and Health professionals develop measures for controlling workplace hazards and limiting financial loss. Professionals may specialize in transportation, construction, environmental problems, product design, insurance loss control, fire and property protection, and the health care industry.

Visit www.assp.org to learn more about working as a safety professional. 

Major Work Activities

  • Developing safety programs
  • Inspecting commercial, government, and industrial work sites
  • Examining plans for new buildings and machines


  • Conducting safety and health audits
  • Preparing reports
  • Investigating accidents


  • Keeping up with the field
  • Communication skills key component of job
  • Monitoring (air/noise/heat)

Common Job Titles

  • Occupational Safety and Health Specialist
  • Safety Engineer
  • Safety Consultant
  • Coordinator of Loss Control
  • Safety Manager
  • Risk Manager


  • Loss Control Manager
  • Environmental Engineer
  • Safety Director
  • Vice President Safety and Health
  • Hazard Control Specialist
  • Environmental Safety Engineer


  • Injury Prevention Specialist
  • Corporate Safety Director
  • Safety Compliance Officer
  • Safety & Training Specialist
  • Product Safety Engineer
  • Risk Control Specialist

Typical Work Setting(s) Indoor/Outdoor

Offices, health care facilities, industrial plants and outdoor work sites are some of the typical work settings one would encounter when working as an Occupational Safety & Health professional. Offices and health care facilities are usually clean and well-lighted yet pose significant ergonomic and other risk factors. Industrial facilities pose similar problems as found in office and health care settings but shift magnitude of problems based on job tasks.

Some facilities are well-planned, clean and present relatively low exposure to hazardous materials, chemicals, machines or other risks. Others have high noise levels, are difficult to keep clean, involve toxic chemicals or materials and entail exposure to other significant risks. Travel may be extensive for those in government and insurance positions. International travel is not unusual for those employed by large corporations.

Leisure/Flexible Time: Average: 40-hour work week with occasional overtime. Generally "on call" 24 hours/day for emergency response, when working in facilities with two or more shifts. Working hours increase with level of responsibility. At upper management level, the work week typically exceeds 40 hours.

Independence On-the-Job: Above average: Works independently to analyze and evaluate problems. Solutions must usually satisfy both labor and management and meet government regulations

Variety: A great amount: Uses variety of strategies and technologies to address safety and health issues in various work setting. Works with all levels of employees. Must be ready to respond to emergencies.

Special Problems/Satisfaction

May be exposed to hazardous materials, conditions, and machines. May need to wear protective equipment. May be required to travel extensively to attend seminars. Must keep up with changing government regulations and new technologies--robotics, exotic materials, etc. May need to deal with concerned public and difficult management. Satisfactions: Active involvement in interpersonal contact with a wide range of people. Much of the work is self directed. Contribute to the organizations overall goals and objectives. Involved in guiding management and workforce in safety issues. The knowledge that one's efforts are protecting human life and resources provides a high degree of job satisfaction.

Contribution to Society: A great amount: Contributes significantly to the public good by protecting employee health and safety, by limiting corporate goods and property loss, and by contributing to organizational goals and objectives.

Leadership: Above average: Advise all levels of management. Provides training for employees, coordinates all activities that have an impact on safety and health.

Prestige Level: Average/Above Average: The more hazardous the work environment the higher the prestige level. The greater the facility commitment, the higher the prestige level.

Educational Requirements

Over 90% of entry level jobs require a bachelor's degree in occupational safety and health. Over 140 college/universities offer programs--only a select few are approved by the Institute for Safety and Health Management (ISHM) or are accredited by ASSE/ABET (American Society of Safety Engineers/Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). Those programs that are approved by ISHM or ABET represent premier programs in the nation. Over 60 institutions have organized ASSE student sections which receive guidance and financial support from the local and national chapter of ASSE. College/University educational program should meet certification requirements. Grand Valley's OSH program is recognized as one of the top programs in the Nation with a curriculum that meets accreditation standards and professional certification standards.

Professional Certifications - Required: The national trend is for safety professional to become certified. The two recognized certifications are the Certified Safety and Health Manager (CSHM) offered by the Institute for Safety and Health Management and the Certified Safety Professional (CSP) offered by the Board of Certified Safety Professionals.

Advancement Opportunities - Good: May advance to positions of greater responsibility (based on size of organization), such as safety manager for a corporation, corporate safety director, loss control manager of an insurance company, head of a consulting firm, director of a governmental agency, or vice president of safety, health, and environment for a company. Many safety professionals advance through movement to other companies, businesses, etc.

Personal Qualifications

Analytical mind. Math and science aptitude. Problem-solving and communication skills. Ability to work well with both labor and management. Must have a genuine concern for people. Must be patient, flexible, practical.

Income Projections

Beginning Income (based on national figures): $40,000-$55,000/yr. with a bachelor's degree in safety, $43,500-$58,000/yr. with a master's degree in safety.

Median Income (based on national figures): $80,000/yr. Based on study conducted by the National Safety Council : NSC. (2000). " Career Forecast". Safety + Health. pps. 40-45.

Top Earning Possibilities: $80,000-$100,000+/yr.; growing numbers earn more than $100,000/yr.

National Employment Outlook

GOOD/VERY GOOD: The number of jobs is expected to continue to increase long-term in response to tougher state and federal regulations, increasing cost of workers' compensation and liability insurance, and reduced profit margins resulting from international competition. The best opportunities will probably occur in smaller, newer companies, the chemical/petroleum industries, and private consulting services. In environmental industries, there are good opportunities for those with knowledge and skills in handling hazardous materials, dealing with hazardous wastes and a variety of environmental safety and health problems. As more companies become self insured, greater emphasis is placed on safety and health issues and the need for educated safety professionals. However, recession led many major insurance companies to reduce their loss control staff by substantial numbers; no expansion likely in the insurance industry in the short run.

Where Employed - In all businesses and industries. The largest employment groups include; insurance companies, health care facilities, service industries, construction, manufacturing, chemical/petroleum industries, municipalities, school systems, and transportation industries. Local, state, and federal agencies are hiring more safety professionals in anticipation of needing to comply with OSHA and EPA standards. A growing number of occupational safety specialists are employed by consulting firms or are self-employed.

Job Security - Good: Number of jobs depends on the state of the economy and manufacturing. As facilities become self-insured, safety becomes higher facility commitment. Lateral and vertical advancement exists within most organizations and between organizations. Many safety professionals change companies within five years of employment with new position representing more responsibility and at a larger salary.

Want more information?

Contact: David Huizen, Assistant Professor

Phone: (616) 331-5596
Email: [email protected]
Office Address: Grand Valley State University, Eberhard Center 618f
                            301 Fulton St West
                            Grand Rapids, MI 49504

Page last modified August 12, 2021