Health and safety engineers develop procedures and design systems to prevent people from getting sick or injured and to keep property from being damaged. They combine knowledge of systems engineering and of health or safety to make sure that chemicals, machinery, software, furniture, and consumer products will not cause harm to people or buildings.
Health and safety engineers typically do the following:
- Review plans and specifications for new machinery and equipment to make sure they meet safety requirements
- Identify and correct potential hazards by inspecting facilities, machinery, and safety equipment
- Evaluate the effectiveness of various industrial control mechanisms
- Ensure that a building or product complies with health and safety regulations, especially after an inspection that required changes
- Install safety devices on machinery or direct the installation of these devices
- Review employee safety programs and recommend improvements
- Maintain and apply knowledge of current policies, regulations, and industrial processes
Health and safety engineers also investigate industrial accidents, injuries, or occupational diseases to determine their causes and to determine whether the incidents could have been or can be prevented. They interview employers and employees to learn about work environments and incidents that lead to accidents or injuries. They also evaluate the corrections that were made to remedy violations found during health inspections.
Health and safety engineers are also active in two related fields: industrial hygiene and occupational hygiene. In industrial hygiene, they focus on the effects of chemical, physical, and biological agents. They recognize, evaluate, and control these agents to keep people from becoming sick or injured. For example, they might anticipate that a particular manufacturing process will give off a potentially harmful chemical and recommend either a change to the process or a way to contain and control the chemical.
In occupational hygiene, health and safety engineers investigate the environment in which people work and use science and engineering to recommend changes to keep workers from being exposed to sickness or injuries. They help employers and employees understand the risks, and improve working conditions and working practices. For example, they might observe that the noise level in a factory is likely to cause harm to workers’ hearing and recommend ways to reduce the noise level through changes to the building, reducing exposure time, or by having workers wear proper hearing protection.
Health and safety engineering is a broad field covering many activities. The following are examples of types of health and safety engineers:
Aerospace safety engineers work on missiles, radars, and satellites to make sure that they function safely as designed.
Fire prevention and protection engineers design fire prevention systems for all kinds of buildings. They often work for architects during the design phase of new buildings or renovations. They must be licensed, and they must keep up with changes in fire codes and regulations.
Product safety engineers investigate the causes of accidents or injuries that might have resulted from the use or misuse of a product. They propose solutions to reduce or eliminate any safety issues associated with products. They also participate in the design phase of new products to prevent injuries, illnesses, or property damage that could occur with the use of the product.
Systems safety engineers work in many fields, including aerospace, and are moving into new fields, such as software safety, medical safety, and environmental safety. These engineers take a systemic approach to identify hazards so that accidents and injuries can be avoided.
For information on health and safety engineers who work in mines, see the profile on mining and geological engineers.
Health and safety engineers held about 24,100 jobs in 2012.
Health and safety engineers typically work in offices. However, they also must spend time at worksites when necessary, which sometimes requires travel. Most health and safety engineers work full time.
The industries that employed the most health and safety engineers in 2012 were as follows:
|Professional, scientific, and technical services||18%|
|Construction of buildings||10|
|State and local government, excluding education and hospitals||10|
|Heavy and civil engineering construction||8|
Most health and safety engineers work full time.
Health and safety engineers must have a bachelor’s degree, typically in an engineering discipline such as electrical, chemical, mechanical, industrial, or systems engineering. Another acceptable field of study is occupational or industrial hygiene. Employers value practical experience, so cooperative-education engineering programs at universities are valuable as well.
High school students interested in becoming health and safety engineers will benefit from taking high school courses in math, such as algebra, trigonometry, and calculus; and science, such as biology, chemistry, and physics.
Entry-level jobs as a health and safety engineer require a bachelor's degree. Bachelor's degree programs typically are 4-year programs and include classroom, laboratory, and field studies in applied engineering. In addition to programs in mechanical, electrical, and industrial engineering, programs in systems engineering and fire protection engineering are offered at some colleges and universities. Students interested in becoming a health and safety engineer should seek out coursework in occupational safety and health, industrial hygiene, ergonomics, or environmental safety.
Students interested in entering the relatively new field of software safety engineering may pursue a degree in computer science.
Many colleges and universities offer cooperative programs, which allow students to gain practical experience while completing their education.
A few colleges and universities offer 5-year accelerated programs that lead to both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. A master’s degree allows engineers to enter the occupation at a higher level, where they can develop and implement safety systems.
ABET accredits programs in engineering.
Creativity. Health and safety engineers are asked to produce designs showing potential problems and remedies for them. They must be creative to work with unique situations during each project.
Critical-thinking skills. Health and safety engineers must identify potential hazards and problems before they cause material damage or become a health threat. Thus, these engineers must be able to sense hazards to humans and property wherever they may arise in the workplace or in the home.
Observational skills. Health and safety engineers must observe and learn how operations function so that they can identify risks to people and property. This type of observation and learning requires the ability to think in terms of overall processes within an organization. Health and safety engineers can then recommend systemic changes to minimize risks.
Problem-solving skills. In designing solutions for entire organizational operations, health and safety engineers must take into account processes from more than one system at the same time. In addition, they must try to anticipate a range of human reactions to the changes they recommend.
Reading skills. Health and safety engineers must be able to interpret federal and state regulations and understand the goals of those regulations so that they can propose proper designs for specific work environments.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Only a few states require health and safety engineers to be licensed. Licensure is generally advised for those opting for a career in systems safety engineering.
Licensed engineers are called professional engineers (PEs). Licensure generally requires the following:
- A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
- A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
- Relevant work experience, typically at least 4 years
- A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam
The initial Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam can be taken after graduation from college. Engineers who pass this exam are commonly called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After getting suitable work experience, EITs and EIs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering.
States requiring licensure usually require continuing education for engineers in order to keep their license. Most states recognize licensure from other states, if the licensing state’s requirements meet or exceed their own licensure requirements.
Health and safety engineers typically have professional certification. Most earn either the Certified Safety Professional (CSP) certification, awarded by the Board of Certified Safety Professionals, or the Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) certification, awarded by the American Board of Industrial Hygiene. Certification is generally needed to advance into management positions.
New health and safety engineers usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers. To move to more difficult projects with greater independence, a graduate degree is generally required, such as a master’s degree in engineering or a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree.
This advanced degree allows an engineer to develop and implement safety programs. Certification as a safety professional or as an industrial hygienist is generally required for entry into management positions.
The median annual wage for health and safety engineers was $76,830 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 $45,370, and the top 10 percent earned more than $118,750.
In May 2012, the median annual wages for health and safety engineers in the top four industries in which these engineers worked were as follows:
|Professional, scientific, and technical services||$75,870|
|State and local government,
excluding education and hospitals
|Construction of buildings||70,420|
|Heavy and civil engineering construction||69,910|
Most health and safety engineers work full time.
Employment of health and safety engineers is projected to grow 11 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
Health and safety engineers have long been employed in manufacturing industries to cut costs, save lives, and produce safe consumer products. The same principles are being applied in new areas, such as health care. Recent studies have documented the high costs of accidents in hospitals. Health and safety engineers can help prevent accidents as biomedical engineers develop advances in their field. Accident prevention, particularly with regard to radiation safety, is likely to become increasingly important for the healthcare industry as a way of cutting costs.
Another major factor likely to drive employment is the emerging field of software safety engineering. Software must work exactly as intended, especially when it controls, for example, elevators or automobiles, where a glitch in the software could cause serious injury to people and damage to equipment. The number of machines and mechanical devices controlled by software is expected to continue to grow, and the need to apply the principles of systems safety engineering to this software is expected to grow as well.
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