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Health and Safety Engineers

Health and safety engineers develop procedures and design systems to keep people from getting sick or injured and to keep property from being damaged. They combine a knowledge of health or safety and of systems engineering to make sure that chemicals, machinery, software, furniture, and other products are not going to cause harm to people or buildings. Show Details

Duties

Health and safety engineers typically do the following:

  • Review plans and specifications for new machinery or equipment to make sure it meets safety requirements
  • Inspect facilities, machinery, and safety equipment to identify and correct potential hazards
  • 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 their 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 see whether they could have been or can be prevented. They interview employers and employees to learn about work environments and incidents leading up 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 getting 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 short-term and long-term harm to workers and recommend ways to reduce the noise level through changes to the building or by having workers wear strong headphones.

Health and safety engineering is a broad field covering many activities. The following are specific 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 in these new fields 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.

Occupational Health and Safety Specialists

Occupational health and safety specialists analyze many types of work environments and work procedures. Specialists inspect workplaces for adherence to regulations on safety, health, and the environment. They also design programs to prevent disease or injury to workers and damage to the environment. Show Details

Duties

Occupational health and safety specialists typically do the following:

  • Identify chemical, physical, radiological, and biological hazards in the workplace
  • Collect samples of potentially toxic materials for analysis
  • Inspect and evaluate workplace environments, equipment, and practices to ensure that safety standards and government regulations are being followed
  • Recommend measures to help protect workers from potentially hazardous work conditions
  • Investigate accidents to identify their causes and to determine how they might be prevented in the future

Occupational health and safety specialists, also known as occupational safety and health inspectors, examine lighting, equipment, ventilation, and other conditions that could affect employee health, safety, comfort, and performance. Workers usually are more alert and productive in environments that have specific levels of lighting or temperature.

Specialists seek to increase worker productivity by reducing absenteeism and equipment downtime. They also seek to save money by lowering insurance premiums and workers’ compensation payments and by preventing government fines. Some specialists develop and conduct employee safety and training programs. These programs cover a range of topics, such as how to use safety equipment correctly and how to respond in an emergency.

Specialists work to prevent harm not only to workers but also to property, the environment, and the public by inspecting workplaces for chemical, radiological, and biological hazards. Specialists who work for governments conduct safety inspections and can impose fines.

Occupational health and safety specialists work with engineers and physicians to control or fix potentially hazardous conditions or equipment. They also work closely with occupational health and safety technicians to collect and analyze data in the workplace. For more information, see the profile on occupational health and safety technicians.

The tasks of occupational health and safety specialists vary by industry, workplace, and types of hazards affecting employees.

Environmental protection officers evaluate and coordinate storing and handling hazardous waste, cleaning up contaminated soil or water, and other activities that affect the environment.

Ergonomists consider the design of industrial, office, and other equipment to maximize workers' comfort, safety, and productivity.

Health physicists work in locations that use radiation and radioactive material, helping to protect people and the environment from hazardous radiation exposure.

Industrial hygienists identify workplace health hazards, such as lead, asbestos, noise, pesticides, and communicable diseases.

Loss prevention specialists work for insurance companies. They inspect the facilities that are insured and suggest improvements to prevent losses.

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