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Occupational Safety and Health Administration Overview and Career Opportunities

The United States Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA"), was created under the Occupational Safety and Health Act by Congress in 1970 with a mission to "assure…every working man and woman in the nation safe and healthful working conditions."

Occupational Safety and Health Act Mandate

OSHA Careers

The Occupational Safety and Health Act sets out federal standards that employers in all states and United States territories must adopt to protect employees from work-related hazards. There are four group standards: general industry; construction; maritime; and agriculture. Employers that do not fall within any of these categories must observe a general duty clause which declares each employer must provide employees with a workplace " …free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees".

In addition to setting standards, OSHA conducts workplace inspections in a specified order of priority: imminent danger situations; fatality and/or injury investigations; formal employee complaints; programmed inspections; and follow up inspections.

OHSA Poster

OSHA created a poster that must be displayed in every business with greater than 10 employees. The notice informs employees they have the right to inform OSHA or the employer of workplace hazards, request an OSHA inspection, file a complaint with OSHA, view OSHA citations against the employer and obtain their medical records, plus a duty to comply with the Occupational and Safety Health Act. Employers are instructed to adhere to the Occupational and Safety Health Act and provide employees with a hazard-free work environment.

OHSA Statistics

OHSA releases annual statistics, gathered by the Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, through the Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities Program.

Statistics for 2008 (the latest year available) reveal there were 3,969,100 reported nonfatal injuries and illnesses and 5,214 fatal injuries. Three of the 4 most frequent work-related fatal incidents - highway accidents, homicides, and struck by object - have all experienced a decline since 1992. The fourth most recurrent fatal category - falls - rose to a high in 2007 and, as of 2008, remains slightly higher than 1992.

On Workers Memorial Day, April 28, 2010, David Michaels, OSHA Assistant Secretary, observed that "Every day in this country, more than 14 workers lose their lives in preventable workplace tragedies - more than 100 deaths every week."

Mr. Michaels further stated the OSHA is committed to continually improving regulations and standards to end unnecessary work-related injuries and deaths.

OSHA Occupational Safety Careers

Administration of the Occupational Safety and Health Act is an immense operation, which requires a diverse workforce.

As a government agency, OSHA follows a General Schedule of qualification standards comprised of Grade levels GS-1 through GS-12 and above. Each level sets out the specific general and specialized experience required, together with requisite education credentials. Below is an outline of the General Schedule as provided by the US Office of Personnel Management, Operating Manual for Qualification Standards:

  • Grade GS-1 » No experience or education requirements
  • Grade GS-2 » 3 months general experience; high school graduation
  • Grade GS-3 » 6 months general experience; 1 year post-secondary education in related field
  • Grade GS-4 » 6 months general and 6 months specialized experience; 2 years post-secondary education in related field
  • Grade GS-5 » 1 year specialized experience equivalent to GS-4; 4 years post-secondary education with Bachelor's Degree
  • Grade GS-7 » 1 year specialized experience equivalent to GS-5; 1 full year of graduate level education
  • Grade GS-9 » 1 year specialized experience equivalent to GS-7; Master's Degree or 2 full years of graduate level education
  • Grade GS-11 » 1 year specialized experience equivalent to GS-9; Doctorate Degree or 3 full years of graduate level education
  • Grade GS-12 » All levels above 12 require one year specialized experience equivalent to the next lowest grade.

The following is a recent sampling of career opportunities, educational and experience requirements, listed by the Department of Labor and State Occupational Safety agencies:

  • Office Automation Clerk (Level GS-3/4)
  • Management and Program Assistant (Level GS-6/7)
  • Industrial Hygienist (Level GS-7/9)
  • Safety & Occupational Health Specialist (Level GS-9/12)
  • Safety & Occupational Health Manager (Level GS-14)
  • Investigation & Compliance Specialist (Level GS-12/13)
  • Safety Investigators (Bachelor's Degree)
  • Health Investigators (Bachelor's Degree)
  • Construction Investigators (Bachelor's Degree)
  • Discrimination Investigators (Bachelor's Degree)
  • Training Investigators (Bachelo's Degree)
  • Compliance Officer (Bachelor's Degree in Science or Health Safety)
  • Workforce Analyst (Level GS-12)
  • Information Technology Project Manager (Level GS-14)
  • Economist Assistant (Level GS-5)
  • Attorney (Level GS-9)
  • Engineer (Level GS-5/7/9/11)
  • Claims Examiner (Level GS-9/11)

The above list is not all inclusive. As noted earlier, the nature of OSHA demands a wide spectrum of employees. Interest in a particular career should be researched in-depth through OSHA and contact numbers are available for assistance.

In addition to experience and education prerequisites, applicants are evaluated through a questionnaire containing "Vacancy Specific Questions". The automated answers are rated on a scale of 70 to 100.

Public Sector Occupational Safety Careers

Private companies employ or contract occupational health and safety technicians and specialists to ensure compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Virtually every employer is held accountable to the standards imposed by the Act.

Typical employers are hospitals, manufacturers, mining corporations, education institutions, scientific fields, technical consulting and administrative services.

Entry-level technicians customarily have earned an associate's degree or post-secondary certification, while specialists hold a 4 year Bachelor's degree or higher.

Fieldwork and travel are commonly required. The work environment may be office-oriented, manufacturing plants, mines or other industrial settings.

There is an extensive range of occupational safety careers in the public sector, such as:

  • Safety Engineer (Engineering Degree)
  • Healthcare/Safety Trainer (Healthcare credentials)
  • Safety Manager (4 year degree)
  • Process Safety Compliance Manager (4 year degree)
  • Compliance Specialist (4 year degree)
  • Environmental Health & Safety Manager (Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Health)
  • Safety Specialist (Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety)

The above is not an exhaustive index. Occupational safety positions available in the public sector often require OSHA certification.

Employment opportunities, both with OSHA and in the public sector, encompass practically all interests or educational disciplines and the career outlook in occupational safety, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is excellent.