FAQ: What Can You Do With a Safety Degree?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published November 16, 2021

Occupational health and safety is the discipline of analyzing and enforcing safety regulations within a work environment. Safety degree programs offer students the opportunity to become experts in health and safety protocols, making them qualified candidates for several health and safety careers. Understanding more about a safety degree can provide helpful insight for figuring out if the field is right for you. In this article, we define what a safety degree is, provide steps for how to begin a career in this industry and explore what you can do with a safety degree.

Related: 25 Environmental Health and Safety Jobs

What is a safety degree?

A safety degree is an educational credential students earn by completing a program of undergraduate or graduate courses within the field of occupational health and safety. Occupational health and safety is the practice of managing workplaces in order to maintain a safe working environment for all employees. Here are some common course topics you may encounter as a safety degree candidate:

  • Toxicology

  • Ergonomics

  • Environmental safety

  • Legal health and safety protocols

  • Worker's compensation

  • Environmental health

  • Hazardous materials handling

  • Fire safety

What types of safety degrees are there?

Those interested in pursuing a career in safety have several educational credential paths to choose from. Here is a list of degrees within the occupational health and safety field:

  • Associate degree: Students working toward an associate degree in occupational safety typically take both general education and specialized safety courses for two years. Upon completion, students commonly continue their safety education by pursuing a bachelor's degree or certification program.

  • Bachelor of Science degree: A Bachelor of Science in occupational safety is the most common safety degree program. Like most undergraduate programs, it requires approximately 120 credit hours in general education, science, specialized safety courses and internships or field experience.

  • Master of Science degree: Students can earn a master's degree in occupational safety or public health upon completion of their undergraduate program, with many universities offering an online format. A master's degree can qualify candidates for higher-level positions within the health and safety industry.

  • Doctoral degree: The most common doctoral programs in this field are in environmental and occupational health, toxicology or occupational health and safety. Doctoral programs in safety prepare students for conducting industry research in sectors such as government and education.

Related: 10 Workplace Safety Tips Every Employee Should Know

What can you learn from a safety degree program?

A degree program in occupational health and safety can teach students foundational industry knowledge and valuable work skills attractive to future employers. Associate and bachelor's programs require students to complete courses in a major that may include:

  • Foundational courses: Commonly required as part of safety programs, these core classes may include math, biology, environmental science, psychology and various social sciences.

  • Communication courses: Safety degree programs seek to develop student writing skills, communication and presentation abilities.

  • STEM courses: These courses include classes in computer and technology literacy, more advanced sciences and math, engineering, and health and safety procedures.

  • Leadership management courses: These classes guide students on how to become successful and productive leaders within their organization.

How can you begin a career in safety?

As you contemplate the field of occupational health and safety, it may be helpful to learn how to start in the industry. Consider these steps to begin your career:

1. Earn a degree

The first step to beginning your career in the safety industry is choosing your degree program, whether an associate or bachelor's degree in occupational health and safety. Research the programs and their optional specialties at different universities to choose a program that matches your interests and needs. Pay attention to your classes to learn fundamental safety knowledge and skills and earn your degree.

2. Gain certifications

Certifications increase your industry expertise and can help you attract the attention of employers. Within the health and safety field, the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP) offers certifications for safety professionals. Candidates take exams on specific safety disciplines and can earn the following certifications:

  • Certified Safety Professional (CSP)

  • Associate Safety Professional (ASP)

  • Occupational Hygiene and Safety Technician (OHST)

  • Construction Health and Safety Technician (CHST)

  • Safety Trained Supervisor Construction (STSC)

  • Safety Management Specialist (SMS)

  • Certified Hazardous Materials Manager (CHMM)

  • Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH)

Read more: How To Obtain an Environmental Health and Safety Certification

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

3. Get field experience

On-the-job experience can be very attractive to potential employers. While pursuing your degree in safety, try to get an internship or field experience to gain confidence and expertise in the field. Many undergraduate degree programs require internships as part of their graduation requirements and may help match students with field work opportunities.

4. Apply for entry-level jobs

The health and safety industry has jobs for candidates with various experience levels. After securing your safety degree, apply for entry-level positions that may allow advancement in the future. Look for jobs on professional networking sites and industry organization websites. Network with internship employers, professionals you met while interning or connections from your university to learn about employment opportunities for which you qualify. Examples of entry-level safety jobs include:

  • Environment, health and safety (EHS) specialist

  • Warehouse supervisor

  • Assistant safety officer

  • Quality coordinator

  • Machine technician

5. Consider furthering your safety education

After completing your undergraduate degree in occupational health and safety, consider pursuing a graduate degree in the same or a related field. Advanced educational credentials can prove your expert knowledge and make it easier to find and secure positions. Having a master's or doctoral degree can also increase your salary and demonstrate your abilities for promotion within your company or organization.

What can you do with a safety degree?

Graduates with a degree in safety have several options for finding employment. Here are five jobs you can qualify for with a safety degree:

1. Safety inspector

National average salary: $46,288 per year

Primary duties: Occupational health and safety inspectors use their expertise to analyze and evaluate the health and safety protocols and procedures of various workplaces. Safety inspectors may work independently and freelance for companies awaiting official inspection from the government's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)office, or they may work for government agencies or private organizations. They design hazard-prevention programs and guide management on ways to implement safety practices in their work environment.

2. Safety technician

National average salary: $60,604 per year

Primary duties: Occupational health and safety technicians conduct tests to measure potential hazards in the workplace. They collect data on safety and a company's working environment. Safety technicians evaluate equipment for policy compliance and demonstrate the correct use of safety equipment and procedures. They ensure the safety of all employees, customers, property and the workplace.

3. Safety specialist

National average salary: $61,102 per year

Primary duties: Health and safety specialists analyze, manage and monitor work environments for safety programs, policies and programs to maintain regulation compliance and safety standards. They evaluate the company's procedures, facilities and equipment to find weaknesses and develop solutions. Safety specialists collect data and make reports on safety and accident events. They're typically the first authority when handling safety protocols in a work environment.

Related: Learn About Being a Safety Manager

4. Environmental specialist

National average salary: $63,909 per year

Primary duties: An environmental specialist uses their extensive scientific knowledge to examine environments and ensure that organizations using resources are adhering to safety regulations. Many safety careers require environmental expertise because of their industry's safety conditions and environmental hazard prevention. They may work as governmental advisers, pollution experts and environmental advocates.

Related: Learn About Being an Environmental Engineer

5. Safety engineer

National average salary: $89,605 per year

Primary duties: Safety engineers use their occupational health and safety expertise to create protocols and procedures for reducing workplace hazards. Using specialized technology and machinery, safety engineers can design programs to increase the safety of people and property. Their training in hazardous chemicals helps them identify potentially harmful materials and remove the contaminant from the work environment.

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