Inspector with a hard hat

How to Become a Health and Safety Engineer

Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

Inspector with a hard hat

For all the marvels of modern society, there are still many potential hazards to be found throughout various industries, workplaces, and even the infrastructure we rely on every day. Everywhere from consumer products to construction sites, it’s in the public’s best interest to have certain professionals focused entirely on upholding high health and safety standards. Thanks mainly to the work of people like health and safety engineers, we rarely ever have to worry about things like consuming dangerous products or being inside unsafe buildings.

If you’re intrigued by the idea of using technical engineering skills in a career dedicated to protecting the well-being of others, becoming a health and safety engineer could be the best career path for you! You’ll have the opportunity to combine the objective analytics of engineering with the human touches of a healthcare career, and you’ll earn a great living at the same time. In fact, we recently featured health and safety engineers on our list of the highest-paying public health jobs in 2021.

This career guide will teach you everything you need to know about becoming a health and safety engineer, including the educational requirements, necessary certifications, and some of the daily responsibilities you can expect on the job. You may also be pleasantly surprised at how long it takes to become a health and safety engineer—it’s a career that’s achievable in less time than you might think!

Not sure if becoming a health and safety engineer is the right career path for you? Click here to see our full list of the highest-paying public health jobs.

Health and Safety Engineer Definition

What is a Health and Safety Engineer?

Health and safety engineers combine engineering skills with an advanced knowledge of health and safety risks to help manufacturers, businesses, and other organizations reduce the chances of injury or illness. Everywhere from machinery, chemicals, and buildings to toys, furniture, and even software, health and safety engineers keep production workers, end consumers, and the general public safe from harm.

Health and Safety Engineer: Job Description

What Does a Health and Safety Engineer Do?

Overall, health and safety engineers provide input on different types of products and projects throughout their entire life cycle, as they go from schematic drawings to manufactured items or completed constructions. Since health and safety engineers are specially trained to recognize certain potential risks, they’ll often review plans and procedures and inspect construction or manufacturing environments to point out potential problems or make suggestions as to how they can avoid putting anyone in harm’s way.

Health and Safety Engineer Duties

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of health and safety engineers include:

  • Developing health and safety protocols and procedures
  • Conducting inspections of manufacturing or construction sites
  • Reviewing project schematics to identify potential concerns before production begins
  • Investigating accidents or injuries to determine their cause and prevent similar incidents in the future
  • Helping their organization stay within regulatory compliance standards

Healthcare symbols hovering over a laptop and stethoscope

Health and Safety Engineer Skills

To succeed as a health and safety engineer, you’ll need solid STEM skills as well as a passion for protecting others. Health and safety engineers must be highly observant with excellent attention to detail—after all, overlooking a potential health hazard can have very serious consequences in many manufacturing or construction environments. Creativity and problem-solving skills will both serve you well in a career as a health and safety engineer since you’ll need to come up with innovative solutions in complex environments while keeping many different factors in mind.

Where Do Health and Safety Engineers Work?

The highest number of health and safety engineer jobs is in manufacturing environments, though construction companies and government organizations are common employers. Some health and safety engineers also work for private consulting or management companies, particularly after gaining specialized experience in a particular area. Most health and safety engineers work full-time and usually follow fairly standard business hours. However, they may sometimes need to be available after hours to respond to incidents or emergencies.

Health and Safety Engineer Schooling & Certification

How Long Does It Take to Become a Health and Safety Engineer?

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Health and Safety Engineer?

Health and safety engineers need polished math and science skills and a thorough knowledge of human and environmental health. That means a bachelor’s degree is the bare minimum education for this career field. While traditional bachelor’s degree programs require a full four years in school, some accelerated degree programs can be completed in just two and a half years. Many health and safety engineers get their bachelor’s degree in one of the traditional engineering disciplines. However, some colleges offer degree programs focused solely on environmental health and safety, which can also prepare you for becoming a health and safety engineer.

The top-earning health and safety engineers also frequently complete a master’s program like a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree. Many master’s degree programs require another two to three years in school, but just like your bachelor’s degree, you can finish your MPH degree much faster with an accelerated degree program. Some MPH programs can even be completed entirely online in as few as 63 weeks!

Like any other long-term goal, becoming a health and safety engineer can be broken down into a series of smaller steps, which can keep you on track and make the final outcome feel much more attainable.

Young medical students in a hallway

Here’s a step-by-step guide to the education, experience, and certifications you’ll need to become a health and safety engineer:

1. Enroll in an Engineering-Focused Bachelor’s Degree Program

The first step in your health and safety engineer training is enrolling in a bachelor’s degree program from an accredited college or university. Many future health and safety engineers go for a bachelor’s program in traditional engineering fields like mechanical, chemical, industrial, or electrical engineering. Some colleges also offer bachelor’s degree programs focused specifically on environmental health and safety, which some people prefer in lieu of a more traditional engineering track. Wherever you choose to enroll, look for an engineering program that’s recognized by the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology, also known as ABET.

2. Earn Your Bachelor of Science Degree

Health and safety engineers must have polished math, science, and technical skills and become effective planners and communicators. Throughout the course of your bachelor’s degree program, you’ll cover a broad scope of subjects that will help you become a more capable leader and critical thinker.

During a bachelor’s degree program focused on engineering, you’ll spend lots of time in STEM-specific classes learning the fundamentals of engineering and expanding your knowledge of math, science, and technology. You’ll also need to complete courses in other general-education subjects like literature, psychology, and communications. There’s a reason all these classes are a required part of any bachelor’s degree course load—they’ll make you a more well-rounded person and professional and help you discover new interests and talents.

As you advance through your bachelor’s degree program, you’ll progress to higher-level courses in your chosen field of engineering and have the opportunity to enroll in other elective courses that will supplement your core educational requirements. This is where you can seek out classes related specifically to occupational and environmental health and safety. At some schools, even take enough of them to earn a minor that will complement your engineering degree.

3. Earn Your Master of Public Health (MPH) Degree

While earning a bachelor’s degree will make it possible to get your foot in the door with some jobs for health and safety engineers, earning a master’s degree like a Master of Public Health (MPH) can help you really stand out during a job search. An MPH program is where you’ll polish the advanced planning and analytical skills you’ll need to create and implement organization-wide health and safety procedures, which will make you even more valuable to potential employers.

Your public health master’s program will build upon your bachelor’s degree with courses like epidemiology and biostatistics, as well as courses that will give you a more advanced knowledge of environmental and occupational health. You’ll dive much deeper into the knowledge and skills it takes to effectively assess and reduce health risks in all different types of manufacturing and workplace environments.

At the end of your MPH program, you’ll need to complete a capstone course where you’ll apply the statistical methods you’ve learned to some aspect of public health. This capstone will demonstrate your ability to interpret and analyze the data that health and safety engineers use to understand potential hazards and implement more effective policies.

4. Stand Out by Earning Additional Certifications

While a license is not required to begin working in entry-level jobs as a health and safety engineer, earning your Professional Engineering (PE) license will open new doors when it comes to promotions and leadership positions. You’ll need to gain a few years of work experience first before you can take the PE exam, which usually consists of between 80-90 questions. You’ll have up to 8 hours to complete the exam, with a 50-minute scheduled break partway through.

In addition to earning your PE license, widely recognized health and safety credentials are also available from the Board of Certified Safety Professionals or the American Board of Industrial Hygiene. These certifications cover various specializations and can boost your earning potential even higher once you’ve gained the required work experience to qualify for the exams. Each certification has its own exam format and length, but all of them will give you an advantage when it comes to advancing your career as a health and safety engineer.

Stethoscope next to money

Health and Safety Engineer Salary

How Much Do Health and Safety Engineers Make?

Like all the other top public health careers, salaries are highest for health and safety engineers with the most experience and education. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates the average annual salary* for health and safety engineers across the country is over $97,000, or nearly $47 per hour. Health and safety engineer salaries among the top 25% of earners start at over $120,000, while the top 10% of earners in the field can bring home $144,000 per year and up.

Health and Safety Engineer Job Outlook

What is the Job Outlook for Health and Safety Engineers?

As construction and consumer manufacturing become increasingly complex and globalized, health and safety engineers should remain in high demand. According to projections from the BLS, the overall amount of health and safety engineers in the workforce is estimated to increase a steady 6% by the year 2030. While a 6% job-growth rate may not seem like a lot at first glance, that still works out to thousands of new jobs available every year! It’s also telling that many new health and safety engineer jobs are replacing people who are retiring. It’s certainly a career that most people stick with for years or decades once they’ve gotten their foot in the door.

Ready to Start Your Career as a Health and Safety Engineer?

If you’re intrigued by the idea of using your math and science skills to keep people safe, becoming a health and safety engineer could be the ideal public health career for you. There’s a special satisfaction in knowing your daily efforts are playing a big part in protecting people from accidents, injuries, or illnesses, and the opportunity to earn one of the highest public health salaries is certainly a nice bonus too!

Ready to start taking steps toward a long and fulfilling career as a health and safety engineer? Click here to learn more about the MPH program at Brookline College, and get started on the road to your new career in public health today!