Columns / Best Practices

Can’t get a handle on the OS&H workforce

So many people contribute to safety it’s hard to quantify it

November 4, 2013
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OS&H workforce disciplines
Visualize a football stadium with a 100,000 capacity. Assume half of the seats are empty and everyone is sitting on one side of the stadium. That group represents the approximate number of occupational safety and health (OS&H) professionals in the U.S. workforce, according to a report commissioned by NIOSH and released in November 2011.1  The nine disciplines that comprise the OS&H workforce are shown in Box 1.(SEE SLIDESHOW)

Is that all we are?

When we visualize data in the NIOSH funded report, crunch numbers, and acquire additional data, who OS&H pros are just doesn't add up. For example, there are about 12,000 active CSPs according to BCSP and about 6,500 active CIHs according to ABIH. If we believe the report, then nearly one of every two safety pros is a CSP and nearly all IHs hold the CIH. This is not correct.

Is the NIOSH commissioned data wrong?  Not necessarily. The report admits that the estimate of the number of OS&H pros in the U.S. workforce may be low. Too low to support future needs. The report’s objective to demonstrate that more funding to train OS&H pros is needed may have been achieved.

Who’s an OS&H pro?

OS&H pros fall into one of nine disciplines (Box 1) according to NIOSH because that is where the agency’s formal funding goes. Outside of what is formal, it is not that easy to profile an OS&H pro.

A degree in one of NIOSH’s nine OH&S disciplines may help define a pro. ISHN’s 2012-2013 White Paper2, however, surveyed people working in the Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) field and found that only about one-third had a college/university degree in one of NIOSH’s nine disciplines. People working in the EHS field have varied degrees, sometimes no degree, and wear more job hats e.g. environmental, sustainability, or security, than just the few OS&H disciplines cited by NIOSH.

You can’t nail down who’s an OS&H pro by membership in associations such as ASSE, AIHA, or NSC either. ISHN’s White Paper found that 35% of people working in the EHS field don’t belong to any association.


Perhaps the best picture of who an OS&H pro is can be found by mining data at O*NET OnLine

O*NET, the Occupational Information Network, developed by the U.S. Department of Labor, has “detailed descriptions of the world of work for use by job seekers, workforce development and HR professionals, students, researchers, and more.”

The number of people employed in Box 2 would easily fill many large football stadiums. The tally, therefore, of OH&S pros in the U.S. workforce, using a more generous description of who we likely are, is a lot more than the 48,000 estimated in the NIOSH funded study.

And we can’t pin down OH&S-related occupations to just those in Box 2. For example, ISHN’s 2012-2013 White Paper found that 38% of people in the EHS field expect to increase their involvement with “environmental sustainability activities” in 2013. Sustainability Specialists and Chief Sustainability Officers are occupations found within O*NET.  O*NET estimates that there will be 111,500 job openings with a median wage at $168,140 for Chief Sustainability Officers through 2020.

Front-line “pros”

The biggest share of the OS&H workforce may be front-line supervisors and regular workers who serve on safety committees and act professionally with their OS&H responsibilities. How should they be counted, or more specifically, supported?

Inclusive OS&H workforce

NIOSH’s nine disciplines that comprise the OS&H pro workforce should be more inclusive. Each of the estimated 8 million worksites in the U.S. should be represented by someone with OS&H responsibility.  Everyone’s challenge is to encourage these people to act professionally – whatever this means and however it may be achieved.


1. National Assessment of the Occupational Safety and Health Workforce (2011)

2. ISHN White Paper 2012-2013 (October 2012)

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Recent Articles by Dan Markiewicz, MS, CIH, CSP, CHMM

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