Careers in Safety, Health and the Environment
Protecting America's work force, the general public and the environment from injury and illness in today's age of technological and scientific advancement has become one of the most challenging and rewarding career fields available. It is here that the safety professional brings to bear technical knowledge, skill and expertise along with management abilities developed through years of education and practical experience.
There are many career options that one may pursue as a safety professional. The safety professional has the responsibility for studying materials, structures, codes and operations in order to find the best way to use resources to control hazards, those things which can lead to accidents, illness, fires, explosions, etc. "Resources" may mean tools, equipment, machinery, buildings or any other items that can prevent hazards. "Accidents" may cause injuries to people or damage to property and the environment as well as other adverse effects.
Safety managers recognize and devise methods to control hazards with management skills and techniques needed to administer a department or facility. The safety manager may direct the safety program of a large plant, corporation or a department within local, state or the federal government.
One very common career within the safety profession is that of a loss control representative for an insurance company. These professionals help organizations which are insured or seeking to be insured identify risks within their operations and reduce the possibility of accidents, fires and other losses.
The largest employers of Safety Professionals are manufacturing, service industries, construction, insurance, consulting firms and the government. The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) identifies the four primary functions of the safety professional as follows:
- Anticipate, identify and evaluate hazardous conditions and practices.
A number of skills and activities are used to identify hazardous conditions, including safety inspections of facilities and equipment, accident investigation, analysis of individual tasks that people perform, studying building layouts and interviews and discussions with people who are exposed to hazards. In addition, a sound education about hazards to look for in various situations and the knowledge of legal requirements and government regulations will prove to be especially valuable.
- Develop hazard control designs, methods, procedures and programs.
Here again, education is important. Even more important is the ability to analyze events, conditions and behaviors to find out why they work in a certain way, and figure out how to change them. Safety professionals exercise a great deal of deductive reasoning and creativity in performing this function.
- Implement, administer and advise others on hazard controls and hazard control programs.
Implement, administer and advise others on hazard controls and hazard control programs.
Often the safety professional uses more than simple verbal communication in carrying out this function. Frequently persuasion is necessary to help people understand why a certain control measure is necessary. In addition, good group leadership skills help other people to determine for themselves what needs to be done. Good communication skills are essential to the job.
- Measure, audit and evaluate the effectiveness of hazard controls and hazard control programs.
This evaluation process often involves gathering data about human performance during the work activity, from inspections, employee complaints, accident investigations and many other sources to determine whether or not hazardous acts and/or conditions have been brought under control. Evaluation systems used by professionals consider the performance of workers, managers and committee members who serve on various teams within the safety program.
The broad field of safety is concerned with the interaction between people and the physical, chemical, biological and psychological forces which affect their well being. It is necessary to realize that all of these forces influence or affect people simultaneously; therefore the safety professional cannot study one area without considering the effects of the others.
Many hazards, such as those associated with chemical substances, require a great deal of study and analysis before proper safety measures can be designed. Others, such as those involving industrial robotics, challenge the safety professional to consider both mechanical and psychological issues in determining how best to control them.
Safety professionals often find that they are the link between two or more functions in a company, such as the purchasing and manufacturing departments or the production and maintenance departments. They will use their special knowledge of scientific methods and people to help solve difficult problems.
Safety professionals frequently have responsibility for a variety of functions; thus, they have the chance to use a broad collection of skills. According to a recent survey of members of ASSE, some of the major functions performed include safety training, accident investigation, audits and inspections, hazard analysis, fire protection, compliance, machine guarding and emergency preparedness.
Among the fastest-growing areas in the field of safety are those related to computer integrated manufacturing, product safety, software, environmental protection, chemical process safety and system safety. As more and more organizations turn to automation to streamline their operations, safety professionals will find a greater demand for their abilities to analyze and understand these technologies to ensure safety requirements are met. Similarly, as public awareness of hazard exposures grows and more complicated consumer products enter the market, safety professionals will be called on to help safeguard the users of these products against accidental injury, illness or damage to the environment.
Safety professionals respond to the needs of employees and the public, analyze hazardous situations and research government regulations to determine which problems pose significant risk. Strategies for hazard control include designing or re-designing equipment and machinery, providing physical safeguards (like rock deflectors on lawn mowers or control systems for complex plant processes) and training people to avoid actions or activities that may lead to injury.
As we move into the twenty-first century, more organizations are developing safety teams and applying safety behavior management to ensure a safe work environment. People must have a feeling of ownership of the safety and health issues at their work site. They must understand that people contribute to the problem and therefore, they can be the solution. The study of behavior with emphasis on both unsafe and safe acts is needed for the continuous improvement of a safety program.