Every employee wants to feel safe in the workplace and able to concentrate on doing their job instead of worrying about potential accidents or injuries. Safety hazards appear in any work environment, whether they are slip-and-fall risks, fire hazards or ergonomic defects in the office design. Warehouse workers and construction crew members face risks when they use heavy equipment, while cubicle employees face greater odds of contracting carpal tunnel syndrome and similar chronic conditions.
All of this makes the role of the industrial hygienist incredibly important. These professionals focus on occupational and environmental safety, intending to mitigate risks and promote employee well-being. Those who have a passion for employee health and wellness, long to see more supportive work environments and are interested in pursuing the right education could make great industrial hygiene professionals.
What Is an Industrial Hygienist?
Industrial hygienists are professionals who specialize in creating, implementing and reviewing workplace safety standards, drawing from principles of industrial engineering and science.
While safety is an important issue in any workplace, these professionals typically focus on industrial work environments. Some of the most common sites for an industrial hygienist to work include chemical plants, power plants, manufacturing centers, construction sites, utility plants and other types of industrial facilities.
What Is an Industrial Hygienist’s Job Description?
The role can be viewed through the prism of the five principles of industrial hygiene, a paradigm that is commonly invoked in the field: anticipation, recognition, evaluation, control and confirmation.
First, industrial hygienists anticipate potential health hazards. Second, they recognize the health hazards that already exist. Third, they evaluate the level of exposure their employees have. Fourth, they control worker exposures and finally confirm that those controls are working.
Specific duties and responsibilities can vary from one industrial setting to the next, but some common tasks include:
- Advising team leaders and frontline managers on health and safety concerns that employees face
- Studying and monitoring employees’ exposure to risks and health hazards
- Developing and implementing programs to promote employee safety and ergonomics
- Performing regular audits of these programs and recommending modifications when necessary
- Educating employees about safety standards and raising awareness about potential risks
- Providing guidance and professional expertise regarding worker’s compensation claims
How to Become an Industrial Hygienist
For those who have an interest in promoting safe and healthy work environments, the industrial hygienist career path may seem appealing. Here are some of the basic steps involved in how to become an industrial hygienist.
Obtain an Undergraduate Degree
To develop foundational skills, it’s necessary to pursue a bachelor-level degree in a field related to industrial, occupational or environmental health. One of the most common options for an aspiring industrial hygienist is a degree in public health.
Pursue Internship Opportunities
Classroom learning is essential, but it must be combined with hands-on experience. One of the best ways to get this kind of experience in an industrial work setting is to look for internship opportunities at a chemical plant, power plant or manufacturing center.
Gain an Advanced Degree
Those who wish to become industrial hygienists may also want to consider getting a master’s-level degree in a related field, such as a Master of Public Health (MPH). Not every employer will require an MPH degree, but advanced training can create better opportunities for more competitive roles and higher salary ranges.
Seek Certification in Industrial Health
A number of credentials are available, including the Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) designation, which denote an advanced level of skill and training. Again, certification is not always required but can create better opportunities for professional advancement.
What Is the Typical Industrial Hygienist Salary?
Those who are interested in this career path will naturally have some questions about the industrial hygienist salary range. According to data obtained from Payscale, in February 2023 the annual median salary for industrial hygienists was roughly $82,300. Those in the upper 10% made as much as $126,000.
Many different factors can affect the industrial hygienist salary range, such as experience, education level and geographic location. Additionally, pursuing certification in the industrial hygiene field can sometimes lead to more competitive salary rates.
Promoting Wellness in the Workplace
When employees have safe, supportive work environments and don’t have to devote mental energy to protecting their own well-being, they are empowered to be more creative and productive. As such, the role of the industrial hygienist can promote the best outcomes for workers as well as leaders and managers.
One of the best ways to prepare for a successful career in industrial hygiene is to pursue the right education, such as USC’s online MPH program. This program provides a robust curriculum that includes a major focus on biostatistical analysis, one of the core competencies of the industrial hygiene field. The program also includes support from a global network of students, faculty and alumni. Find out more about how a Master of Public Health can be the first step toward a career in industrial hygiene.