How much Science is there in an Occupational Safety and Health Degree?

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There are science courses in the captioned degree. The number varies according to the school’s curriculum. Students considering this major should be prepared to study chemistry, biology, microbiology, physics, anatomy, and physiology. A foundation in some of these sciences begins in high school. At this level, you want to take as many science classes as possible. A background in chemistry, biology, and physics will reap benefits as you proceed to more advanced studies at the college level.

From an Associate to a Master’s degree, you will have science and mathematics as part of the coursework. We will look at three-degree levels to provide a glimpse of what you can expect. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Associate Degree

An Associate of Science in Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) may have three credit hours of math and six hours of natural sciences. The latter divides the hours between biology and chemistry in the General Education. An understanding of these two sciences carries into the core requirements where you may study hazardous materials and chemicals. Your chemistry knowledge helps in the examination of chemical properties and interactions. It is imperative for health reasons to know how and why certain chemical substances are harmful. Furthermore, chemistry is involved in courses related to hazardous waste disposal and its effect on the environment. Biology also comes into play in the analysis of potentially toxic materials and liquids.

The associate’s degree may include a course in industrial ergonomics. Ergonomics is a broad topic that requires knowledge of how physical conditions affect workers. Examples are lighting, posture, noise, and repetitive motion. Anyone of which can cause accidents. Therefore, a class in ergonomics explores workstation design, training, and task analysis. Anatomy and physiology provide the means to analyze human factors to create a safer workplace.

Bachelor’s Degree

Again, General Education requirements typically include a mathematics, chemistry, and biology class. A Bachelor of Science curriculum is similar to an associate degree. Most programs study hazardous materials, which again involves chemistry. Biology is the focus of a course in toxicology that examines the effects of toxins on the human body. Toxicity testing entails a combination of chemistry and biology to assess the possible damage to various organs.

Physics may be integrated into the study of the physical effects of repetitive motion, acoustics, and vibration. By applying engineering principles, safety experts can reduce excessive noise and damaging vibrations. Physics is the science of heat, light, energy, mechanics, radiation, and sound. All of these physical properties have the potential to cause severe injuries in the work environment.

There may not be a stand-alone class in anatomy or physiology. Indirectly, one or both of these forms the essence of understanding how workplace hazards affect the human body. Occupational diseases and injuries require the skills to evaluate the toll a stressor takes on the body. For example, what are the physiological effects of vibrating machinery on the body’s normal function? Physiology also applies to the field of ergonomics, which comprises anatomy, applied science, and engineering.

A Bachelor of Arts in OSH does not avoid the sciences. Waldorf University offers this degree. However, their curriculum seems to parallel the science programs. Many of the same courses apply to an arts degree, such as hazardous materials, industrial hygiene, ergonomics, and health issues.

Master’s Degree

The sciences continue at the graduate level. One school, Columbia Southern University adds the word “Advanced” in front of most of their bachelor’s courses in OSH. For example, their undergraduate class in toxicology studies drugs, pesticides, industrial chemicals, and food additives. Their advanced toxicology course explores non-carcinogenic and carcinogenic chemicals, as well as how they target organs. The graduate class delves into the molecular and cellular aspects of toxins.

The focus on the sciences at this level varies by school. Some have a higher concentration with courses in chemical agents, biological agents, physical agents, epidemiology, and occupational health. A curriculum of this type requires an undergraduate load of science courses. There are master’s programs whose eligibility indicates college-level credits in mathematics, biology, chemistry (including organic chemistry), anatomy, and physics.

There are graduate programs that may appeal to science-minded students. A degree in industrial hygiene emphasizes the cause and effect of chemical and biological hazards. You study workers’ exposure to harmful airborne agents. How do these affect neurological, motor, cognitive, and psychological behavior?

There are options to specialize in occupational ergonomics. These study plans include biostatistics, epidemiology, physiology, occupational hygiene, and biomechanics. In other words, there is a substantial regimen of sciences.


Industries have a legal obligation to provide a safe and healthy work environment. Farming, commercial fishing, logging, and pilots have the highest number of fatalities per 100,000 employees, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The challenges remain to improve the safety and health of employees. Some statistics continue to rise.

Transportation and material moving workers incurred 12,750 days away from work (DAFW) cases in 2017, an increase of 3,120 cases from 2016.

Private industry employers reported 45,800 fewer nonfatal injury and illness cases in 2017 vs. 2016.

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