Safety engineering is an engineering discipline which assures that engineered systems provide acceptable levels of safety. The primary goal of safety engineering is to manage risk, eliminating or reducing it to acceptable levels. Risk is the combination of the probability of a failure event, and the severity resulting from the failure. Safety engineering attempts to reduce the frequency of failures, and ensure that when failures do occur, the consequences are not life-threatening.
Ideally, safety engineering starts during the early design of a system. Safety engineers consider what undesirable events can occur under what conditions, and project the related accident risk. They may then propose or require safety mitigation requirements in specifications at the start of development or changes to existing CAD designs or in-service products to make a system safer. This may done by full elimination of any type of hazards or by lowering accident risk.
There are degree programs available from Associate’s level to Ph.D..
This degree in safety engineering prepares the student for positions such as safety inspectors and technicians. The courses are designed for the student to learn about production planning and control, industrial leadership, and accident investigation. One such school is the Indiana University which has a two year Associate of Science in Safety Management degree. Curriculum consists of:
- Legal Aspects of Safety
- Industrial Hygiene
- Fundamentals of Fire Protection
- Incident Investigation and Analysis
- System Safety Analysis
- Safety Engineering and Technology
- Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics
A typical curriculum at this level covers these subjects:
- Industrial Accident Prevention
- Fire Protection Systems/Techniques
- Analysis Techniques in Industrial Health and Safety
- Hazardous Material Operation
- Chemistry and Biochemistry
- Industrial Organizational Psychology
For students wishing to specialize in Fire Protection and Safety Technology, Oklahoma State University (OSU) claims to be the only nationally accredited Fire Protection and Safety (FPST) program. Their FPST program was established in 1937, making it the oldest such program in North America. OSU’s program is recognized as a world leader in preparing students for careers in fire protection, safety, industrial hygiene, exposure science, and fire service.
Doctorate of Philosophy
For the more ambitious, there are PhD programs in Safety Sciences. Some schools house this specialty within their engineering department, namely industrial engineering. There are online and on-campus programs available. The doctorate degree provides the opportunity to focus on a particular safety issue.
There are careers in several areas, for example:
- Occupational Health and Safety- prevent harm to workers, property, the environment, and the general public.
- Industrial Safety- involves the development and monitoring of safe production systems, as well as the assessment and correction of risky work situations, such as hazardous exposures and employee accidents.
- Product Safety- work in manufacturing environments to ensure new product designs do not create unnecessary hazards. Their main concerns are to develop and conduct tests to evaluate product safety levels and recommend measures to reduce or eliminate hazards, conduct research to evaluate safety levels for products, and evaluate potential health hazards or damage that could occur from product misuse.
- Failure Analysis- analysis of a component or product that fails in service, in manufacturing, or during production processing. In any case, one must determine the cause of failure to prevent future occurrence, and/or to improve the performance of the device, component, or structure.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in 2012 that the median annual salary was $76,830 with a bachelor’s degree. The anticipated growth is 11% or 2,600 jobs added/changed through 2022.
Safety engineers are required in almost every industry in the manufacturing world, from aircraft to food products. There are corporate, state and federal regulations that are designed to ensure the health and safety of all humans exposed to the product. In this endeavor, the safety engineer plays an indispensable role to prevent, mitigate, analyze, and assess the potential hazards inherent in a product or situation.