Health and safety engineers help ensure workers stay safe, even in challenging environments such as manufacturing plants or construction sites. It's an essential role that can save lives using technical knowledge and expertise. If you thrive in demanding situations, excel at math and science, and have meticulous attention to detail, becoming a health and safety engineer may be right for you.
It's also a rewarding career in more ways than one; the median salary for health and safety engineers in 2018 was $89,130.1
WHAT DO HEALTH AND SAFETY ENGINEERS DO?
Health and safety engineers are responsible for ensuring a safe work environment for all employees and visitors.2 They design the environments and systems that will keep a workplace as safe as possible to minimize danger and reduce the risk of injuries.3
Health and safety engineers don't enforce the following of rules or oversee safety at a workplace directly; instead, they work behind the scenes to develop rules and methods to promote a safe and healthy environment, either in the workplace or on construction sites. They may collaborate with others who are responsible for overseeing the day-to-day safety of a workplace, but their focus is usually on developing systems for others to follow.
This role is defined by its skillset rather than by a particular job sector, which means you'll find positions for health and safety engineers in engineering services, management and scientific services, manufacturing, government and construction. The highest percentage of health and safety engineers work in manufacturing, which can be a dangerous field for workers, making a health and safety engineer's role particularly vital.3 In any of these fields, a good health and safety engineer may be responsible for the health and lives of countless employees on the job.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO SUCCEED AS A HEALTH AND SAFETY ENGINEER?
Health and safety engineers must be good at math and science and be able to complete difficult engineering coursework. On top of their educational strengths, health and safety engineers must also be able to find creative solutions to difficult problems and then devise ways to clearly communicate those solutions. It's a very hands-on career path that calls for understanding people as well as engineering.
Skills for health and safety engineers include:4
- Communication skills
- Critical thinking
- Observational skills
- Excellent computer skills
- Ability to work well independently and as part of a team
- Active listening
- Attention to detail
- Analytical thinking
THE STEPS TO BECOMING A HEALTH AND SAFETY ENGINEER
- Get a degree related to health and safety engineering. To succeed as a health and safety engineer, it's important to have excellent grades in math and science, even at the high school level.2
- For entry-level positions, you'll need at least a bachelor's degree, either in a specialized health and safety program or in some sort of engineering field,5 such as electrical, mechanical, civil or chemical engineering.2 Choose a program that is certified by ABET (the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) and that will give you opportunities to gain firsthand experience on-the-job.
- More advanced positions with greater responsibilities and more complex problems to solve typically call for a master's degree. Having a master's degree in health and safety engineering can also make you a more competitive candidate if you live and work in a highly competitive job market.
- Gain work experience on-the-job.6 Many employers prefer to hire candidates who already have experience. Take advantage of every opportunity to gain real-world experience during your academic career. You may be able to find a program that offers cooperative education, which allows you to work while completing your degree.
- Acquire appropriate licensing.7 Although entry-level positions generally do not require a license, a Professional Engineering (PE) license can be necessary for career advancement. You'll generally need to have completed four years of work experience and successfully passed both the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam (which you will be eligible for after earning your bachelor's degree) and the PE exam to gain your state licensure.
- Keep up with continuing education. Not only will this help you stay competitive and successful throughout your career, it may also be necessary to retain licensure. You can strengthen your skillset by earning additional certifications, such as the Certified Safety Professional certification, the Occupational Health and Safety Technologist certification, and more.7
- Join a professional organization to continue your professional development.2 These include the American Society of Safety Engineers, the Safety and Health Institute, and the International Council on Systems Engineering.
Stand out from the competition and become a strong candidate in the field of health and safety with a master's degree in public health. Kent State University's online Master of Public Health program helps you build your expertise, broaden your understanding of your field, and learn from and among other experienced professionals — all while being able to continue as a full-time working professional.
1 Retrieved on October 13, 2019, from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/health-and-safety-engineers.htm
2 Retrieved on October 13, 2019, from https://www.environmentalscience.org/career/health-safety-engineer
3 Retrieved on October 13, 2019, from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/health-and-safety-engineers.htm#tab-2
4 Retrieved on October 13, 2019, from https://www.owlguru.com/career/industrial-safety-and-health-engineers/requirements/
5 Retrieved on October 13, 2019, from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/health-and-safety-engineers.htm
6 Retrieved on October 13, 2019, from https://www.masterspublichealth.net/faq/how-do-you-become-a-health-and-safety-engineer/
7 Retrieved on October 13, 2019, from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/health-and-safety-engineers.htm#tab-4