Growing Shortage of Health & Safety Staff in the U.S.Nov 23rd, 2011 | By Michael Bittner | Category: Featured Articles
The United States could be heading for a significant shortfall in occupational safety and health (OS&H) professionals, according to the National Assessment of the Occupational Safety and Health Workforce report issued by the U.S. National Insitute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in October 2011. America’s colleges and universities are expected to graduate 13,000 OS&H professionals in the next five years, compared with employers’ projections of 25,000 hires over the same period.
The NIOSH survey that formed the basis of the report was undertaken to address growing concern over the supply and demand for OS&H professionals in the United States. This is the second survey of its kind conducted by NIOSH; the first survey was completed in 1978. Survey questionnaires were submitted to both employers of OS&H professionals (e.g., industrial facilities, consulting companies) and academic institutions that train these professionals. A stratified sample of more than 7,600 establishments was selected.
The study focused on nine OS&H disciplines:
- occupational safety
- industrial hygiene
- occupational medicine
- occupational health nursing
- health physics
- occupational epidemiology
- occupational health psychology
- occupational injury prevention
Key Findings of the NIOSH Survey
- More than 48,000 OS&H professionals are currently employed in the U.S. workforce.
- Safety professionals comprise the majority of OS&H professionals (59 percent), followed by industrial hygienists (15 percent), occupational health nurses (9 percent), and occupational medicine practitioners (3 percent).
- Safety professionals represent about 71 percent of the 25,000 OS&H professionals whom employers expect to hire over the next five years. Seventy-six percent of employers intend to seek bachelor’s degree–level professionals.
- Over the next five years, about 69 percent of OS&H graduates will be from safety programs, 12 percent will be from industrial hygiene programs, and 3 percent each will be from occupational medicine and occupational health nursing programs.
- The workforce is graying. NIOSH estimates that a large number of OS&H professionals are over the age of 50, and employers expect about 10 percent of safety professionals to retire within the next year.
- Both funding for OS&H programs at colleges and universities and enrollment in these programs are down.
- Employers are generally satisfied with their OS&H employees’ level of training, but they hope that future employees will have additional competency and training in leadership and communication as well as other OS&H disciplines.
Although some of America’s hiring needs will be met by OS&H professionals who are currently unemployed, the survey data suggest that a shortage of trained OS&H professionals will develop in the next five years.
NIOSH is the U.S. federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness. The mission of NIOSH is to generate new knowledge in the field of occupational safety and health and to transfer that knowledge into practice for the betterment of workers. To accomplish this mission, NIOSH conducts scientific research, develops guidance and authoritative recommendations, disseminates information, and responds to requests for workplace health hazard evaluations. NIOSH is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
About the Author
Michael Bittner, CPEA, is a senior partner in the Boston, U.S.A. office of Environmental Resources Management and editor of the EHS Journal. He specializes in global EHS solutions including
- Compliance and management systems auditing
- EHS management systems implementation and design
- Sustainability solutions
- Mergers and acquisitions support
Mr. Bittner is a member of the Board of Directors for the Auditing Roundtable.
Photograph: Selfridges, Birmingham, UK by Robert Grace, United States.