Occupational Health and Safety Technicians - What They Do

Occupational health and safety technicians work with occupational health and safety specialists to help prevent harm to workers, property, the environment, and the general public. For example, they might help design safe work spaces, inspect machines, or test air quality. In addition to making workers safer, technicians work with specialists to increase worker productivity by reducing absenteeism and equipment downtime, and to save money by lowering insurance premiums and workers' compensation payments, and preventing government fines. Some technicians work for governments conducting safety inspections and imposing fines.

Occupational health and safety technicians take measurements and collect workplace data either for routine inspection or as directed by a specialist. Technicians often focus on testing air, water, machines, and other elements of the work environment. They collect data that occupational health and safety specialists then analyze. Usually working under the supervision of specialists, they also help to implement and evaluate safety programs.

To measure hazards, such as noise or radiation, occupational health and safety technicians prepare and calibrate scientific equipment. They must properly collect and handle samples of dust, gases, vapors, and other potentially toxic materials to ensure personal safety and accurate test results.

To ensure that machinery and equipment complies with appropriate safety regulations, occupational health and safety technicians may examine and test machinery and equipment, such as lifting devices, machine guards, or scaffolding. They may check that personal protective equipment, such as masks, respirators, protective eyewear, or hardhats, is being used according to regulations. They also check that hazardous materials are stored correctly. They test and identify work areas for potential accident and health hazards, such as toxic vapors, mold, mildew, and explosive gas-air mixtures and help implement appropriate control measures, such as adjustments to ventilation systems. Their inspection of the workplace might involve talking with workers and observing their work, as well as inspecting elements in their work environment, such as lighting, tools, and equipment.

The responsibilities of occupational health and safety technicians vary by industry, workplace, and types of hazards affecting employees. Mine examiners, for example, are technicians who inspect mines for proper air flow and health hazards such as the buildup of methane or other noxious gases. Environmental protection technicians evaluate and coordinate the storage and handling of hazardous waste, the cleanup of contaminated soil or water, or other activities that affect the environment. Health physics technicians work in places that use radiation and radioactive material, helping to protect people and the environment from hazardous radiation exposure. Industrial hygiene technicians examine the workplace for health hazards, such as exposure to lead, asbestos, pesticides, or communicable diseases.

Work Environment

Occupational health and safety technicians work in a variety of settings from offices and factories to mines. Their jobs often involve considerable fieldwork, and some require frequent travel. Occupational health and safety technicians may be exposed to many of the same strenuous, dangerous, or stressful conditions faced by industrial employees. They may find themselves in an adversarial role if an organization disagrees with their recommendations. Most technicians work the typical 40 hour week. Some occupational health and safety technicians may be required to work overtime, and often irregular, hours.

Education & Training Required

There are multiple paths to entry-level employment as an occupational health and safety technicians. Some technicians attend postsecondary school and typically earn an associate degree or certificate. Other technicians enter the occupation through work experience and training. In this case, an individual typically already works in the industry and may volunteer with their employer to take on health and safety responsibilities. These workers then usually receive on-the-job training coupled with some formal education. All occupational health and safety technicians are trained in the applicable laws or inspection procedures through some combination of classroom and on-the-job training.

Recommended high school courses include English, mathematics, chemistry, biology, and physics.

Other Skills Required (Other qualifications)

Although voluntary, many employers encourage credentialing. The Council on Certification of Health, Environmental, and Safety Technologists offers credentialing at the technician level. For specific requirements for each credential, contact the certifying body. Most certifications require completing periodic continuing education for recertification.

In general, people who want to enter this occupation should be responsible and like detailed work. Occupational health and safety technicians also should be able to communicate well.

Occupational Health and Safety Technicians - What They Do - Page 2

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