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Careers in Environmental & Occupational Health


What Environmental/Occupational Health Specialists Do

Environmental or occupational health specialists have a wide variety of job responsibilities depending on the type of area in which they work, whether it is for a local public health agency, a healthcare facility, or business. Here are some of the things that you might do on the job:

One, you make sure that people follow rules, laws and regulations. For example, facilities providing day care must follow certain rules ensuring the health and safety of the children they care for. As an environmental health specialist you would inspect a day care facility to determine if workers handle food safely, make sure the facility has up to date immunization records, and whether general sanitation is adequate. Based on your findings you would make a recommendation to the city as to whether or not the facility should keep their license. You may also inspect other facilities, such as restaurants, schools, solid waste facilities, water well installations, public pools, worksites.

You might interview employees who have been exposed to hazardous materials. For example, three workers in a medical waste treatment facility in Washington tested positive for tuberculosis, also known as TB. As an occupational health specialist you would interview the workers about their work routine, projects, and other lifestyle factors to determine how they were exposed to the TB virus.

Third, you will respond to complaints. For example, as a corporate occupational health and safety a pregnant woman may ask you if she should change her job, job tasks, or stop working all together because she is concerned that the chemicals she works with may be harmful to her unborn baby.

Providing trainings is also part of your job. As an occupational health professional you might train food service workers how to safely handle and prepare food, or you may be asked to update and implement food processing training in Spanish for workers at a meat packing facility that recently had a Listeria contamination problem.

You will make recommendations for improved health and safety. Workplace violence has become a major public health concern. As an occupational health and safety specialist, you would be asked to bring the company's workplace anti-violence policy in line with the recently published National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, or NIOSH, recommendations.

You will be involved in developing legislation. As an environmental health expert you may be asked to present to a state legislative committee the latest science-based technology available for coal mine communication, tracking, and rescue technology.

Finally, you may collect samples for laboratory analysis. For example, as part of an environmental survey in Butte Montana, you would be asked to collect well water samples for chemical analyses in an area 15-20 miles south of the contaminated Berkeley Pit.

Employment and Education

You will find jobs listed as environmental health specialist, registered sanitarian, occupational health specialist, or industrial hygienist. While you can be hired with a bachelor's degree, some jobs, particularly those in occupational health, require a graduate degree or further training and professional credentials.

You will most likely find employment with:

  • State, county, and city health departments
  • Federal agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration
  • Private industry and businesses, including manufacturing, transportation, and construction, and
  • Health care institutions

Average Salary

Occupational Health Specialists

The average annual salary ranges between: $33,570-$85,690.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, May 2006


Environmental Health Scientists

The average annual salary ranges between: $47,240-$87,080.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, May 2006


Pay is dependent on geographic location, company/business, and advanced education or professional credentials. For example, an occupational health specialist with a graduate degree and certifies as an industrial hygienist can earn more.

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