There were around 2.8 million non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses in the private sector in 2017. (US Bureau of Labor Statistics/BLS)

There were 5,147 fatalities at work in 2017 in the U.S.

Judging from these most recent figures from the BLS-work can kill you. Therefore, there is a need for health and safety experts to continue reducing work-related injuries and deaths. The 2017 number is a 3.5 percent decrease from the 5,190 fatalities in 2016. However, deaths due to falls remained at the highest mark in the twenty-six history of the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI).

The enforcement and adherence to the laws and regulations strive to improve the health and safety for all occupations. Some are inherently more dangerous than others.  Transportation accidents, for example, has the highest fatalities at 2,077. Mining, oil and gas extraction, and quarrying had a 26% increase in work deaths in 2017 vs. 2016. With an aging population, more people are working longer. Workers age 65 and older show a rise in their fatality rates.

A degree in health and safety may allow you the opportunity to be instrumental in preventing occupational injuries and deaths. According to the BLS, there is a need for Health and Safety Specialists and Technicians. The projected growth rate is 8% or a change in 8,600 jobs (2016 to 2026). The most recent data (2016) reported 101,800 people employed in this category. Also, the median pay is $67,720 (BLS-2017) based on a bachelor’s degree.


The standard degree is a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety and Health. Some add management after the word health. Both degrees teach about federal and state laws about workplace safety. It is necessary to understand the legislation behind the country’s endeavor to minimize on-the-job accidents. However, the majority of coursework focuses on health and safety methods. To accomplish this purpose, students study techniques, behavioral aspects, incident analysis, environmental issues, and industrial hygiene.

The curriculum at Grand Valley State University, for example, devotes 37 credit hours to safety and health. Also, to address safety concerns, students need classes in human anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, and psychology. You should expect math courses in statistics and algebra, as well. Electives expand your knowledge into specific areas where accidents occur. Examples are in product safety, transportation, fire science, and industrial hygiene — the last one looks at chemical, biological, and noise hazards present in some industries. It is imperative to understand the causes to develop and implement techniques to control potentially hazardous conditions.

There are schools with a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Hygiene and Safety. Ohio University (OU) is one example whose curriculum parallels the other health and safety programs. Similarly, the courses at OU also have biology and chemistry, as well as physics. The core requirements include toxicology, environmental safety and health, epidemiology, physical hazards, and more. Some of the electives take you away from workplace issues. A short list of your choices is public health, food quality, climate change, ergonomics, and laboratory hygiene.

Students who want to connect more with safety than health may opt for a degree in safety management. Science courses are unavoidable with the inclusion of general chemistry that studies nomenclature, molecular theory, and electrochemistry. The program also has statistics and calculus. These courses describe the Bachelor of Science degree at Slippery Rock University.

The majors at Slippery Rock concentrate on the safety theme. Principles of Industrial Hygiene, Safety Issues, Safety Training, Hazardous Materials, and Construction Safety make up most of the required classes. As noted above, transportation safety needs attention because of the high number of casualties. This program has a course in Motor Transportation Fleet Safety.

Another consideration is the combination of occupational safety and environmental health. You can expect the pervasive sciences of chemistry, biology, and mathematics. The study plan in a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety and Environmental Health entails ergonomics, fire science, industrial hazards, safety systems, and injury prevention. Graduates can seek employment in construction, insurance, consulting, and government agencies. Some of the job titles are safety manager, risk manager, health and safety inspector, and industrial hygienist.

Graduates interested in the government sector can browse the opportunities at USAJOBS in OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). For example, you could aspire to reach the position of Supervisor Industrial Hygienist in Bismarck, North Dakota. The duties include ensuring that companies comply with OSHA regulation, conduct inspections, identify high-risk conditions, revise standards, and act as a representative at labor organizations. This management is open to candidates with experience in the field and knowledge of chemical, biological, and physical hazards. The posted salary (January 2019) was $105,879 to $137,644 per year.

Additional Resources:

What is the benefit of a health and safety engineering degree vs an occupational health and safety degree?

What Degree Do I Need to Be a Safety Engineer?

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