To learn more about this occupation, talk to a career counselor about your interest in the safety professions. He or she may have advice on how to research the job, visit a plant, or meet with a working industrial safety and health technician. If you live near a community college with a safety and health program, visit its career information center, library, and counseling staff to learn more about the career.
Local OSHA offices and chapters of the National Safety Council can also provide excellent information about this career. Safety publications, such as Safety+Health (http://www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com), also provide information about occupational safety.
Summer or part-time work in manufacturing or warehousing can introduce you to the environments in which you might eventually work. Learning on-the-job safety and health rules in a factory, plant, or other workplace serves as good experience.
Industrial safety and health technicians work for many kinds of employers. These include manufacturing industries and businesses, construction and drilling companies, transportation, mining, and other industrial employers, and medical, educational, and scientific institutions. Experienced industrial safety and health technicians may work as instructors with programs for training safety personnel, in federal, state, and local government agencies, and for insurance and safety consulting firms.
These technicians usually work as members of a team directed by a safety engineer or the head of the engineering department. The team often works relatively independently, following safety plans drawn up by engineers or outside consultants. Depending on their backgrounds, experience, or the nature of the workplace, industrial safety and health technicians may be asked to assume responsibility for safety within a given department, a single site, or several locations.
The work of these technicians is typically a combination of three general activities. The first is to communicate safety consciousness and teach safety practices to employees. Their second duty is to perform on-the-job inspections and analyze potential safety and health hazards in the workplace. Third, technicians write reports, keep records, work with engineers to design safeguards, study ways to improve safety, and communicate suggestions to supervisors.
Safety and health technicians are usually expected to work with the personnel department to organize, schedule, and conduct safety instruction sessions for new workers. Most of the instruction sessions for new employees involve orientation and tours through the areas where they will work. Tours include explanations of the safeguards, safety rules, protection systems, hazards, safety signs, and warnings. They also cover any work rules regarding safety shoes, clothing, glasses, hard hats, and other safety regulations.
These instructional duties are among the technician's most important activities. Understanding and avoiding the actions that cause injury in the first place is more effective than simply reacting to workplace illnesses and accidents after they happen.
Potential hazards in the workplace that are monitored by technicians include airborne health hazards, such as dusts, mists, fumes, and gases; physical hazards, such as noise, vibration, extreme temperatures, and pressure; and mechanical and electrical hazards such as unguarded machinery or improperly grounded or insulated equipment. Technicians also review facilities, checking working surfaces, fire protection systems, sanitation facilities, and electricity and water utilities.
More specialized tasks performed by industrial safety and health technicians cover many areas. They conduct periodic workplace investigations to discover and define substances, conditions, and activities that may contribute to the contamination of a work environment. Technicians review safety evaluation reports from state and insurance inspectors, worker committees, or management to help coordinate actions needed to correct hazards. They also inspect and maintain records on safety equipment, arranging for any necessary repairs.
Technicians may review operating, maintenance, and emergency instructions to be sure that they are adequate and timely. They assist in accident and injury investigations and maintain follow-up records to make sure that corrective actions were taken after an incident.
Industrial safety and health technicians recommend to their supervisors ways to improve the company's safety and health performance record and work with management to create a more effective safety policy. This may involve studying current safety reports and attending industrial safety and health conferences.
Technicians also maintain records of the company workers' compensation program and OSHA illness or injury reports. These duties are coordinated with the company's personnel and accounting departments.
In companies with large safety and health staffs, the work of technicians may be more specialized. For example, they may only conduct inspections and design safeguards to prevent accidents. In smaller companies, the beginning technician may be considered the safety engineer, responsible for an entire occupational safety program that has been prepared by an outside consultant.