Studying isn’t limited to the classroom anymore.

There is no accurate estimation of the number of full-time industrial safety and hygiene staff professionals in the U.S. today. The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), founded in 1911, currently has about 30,000 members. The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), founded in 1939, has about 10,600 members. Many industrial safety and hygiene professionals are member of both ASSE and AIHA.

Combine their memberships and you have less than 40,000 professionals. That is not nearly sufficient for the 8.9 million worksites in the U.S.

Occupational safety and health specialists earned an average annual income of $53,110 in 2004, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that between 2002 and 2012, jobs in occupational safety and health will increase 13.2 percent

Filling the void
Due to the lack of skilled professional industrial safety and hygiene professionals in the U.S., many worksites employ part-time workers or volunteers to operate their industrial safety programs.

For example, in a 2008 survey by Industrial Safety & Hygiene News, 49 percent said industrial safety was their full-time job. For 38 percent, safety was a responsibility in addition to other work functions, such as being a business manager, business owner, engineer, purchasing agent, or personnel director.

So how can the U.S. develop a sufficient number of well-educated industrial safety and hygiene professionals with the requisite skills to protect 135 million workers in 8.9 million worksites?

There is more than one answer, more than one system to train workers in important industrial safety and hygiene skills.

University industrial safety and hygiene programs
More than 100 universities in the U.S. offer degrees in safety and health management, industrial hygiene, hazardous waste management, fire protection, construction safety management, occupational medicine, nursing, risk control, and injury prevention.

Students can earn four-year degrees, two-year degrees, post-graduate master’s and doctoral degrees, and certificates obtained in workshops, seminars, and continuing education courses.

Increasingly, universities are offering industrial safety and hygiene training courses online. Students can study and take tests on their computers at home, without traveling to the campus and sitting in a classroom.

These online classes are particularly popular with mid-career pros looking to advance, expand career options, and/or pursue graduate degrees. Holding down day jobs, these pros enjoy taking classes from their home offices at night, rather than commuting to campuses.

Another alternative for busy pros looking for advanced degrees or certificates of additional education is what could be call concentrated studies, perhaps week-long classes at a university or graduate programs scheduled in blocks of study time.

Schools offering online coursework include Drexel University, Eastern Kentucky University, Tulane University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Kansas State University, the University of Connecticut, and several technical schools and local community colleges.

The American Industrial Hygiene Association’s Web site offers a lengthy list of university programs, and a Google search will turn up numerous online degree programs.

Professional associations
These private associations educate and train their members at annual conferences with seminars and workshops and lectures, and through special certificate programs. For example, ASSE offers a Certificate in Safety Management seminar and an Executive Program in Safety Management seminar.

Vendors and consultants
Today, many of these companies sell their training products online. These include DVDs, manuals, training kits, workbooks, and online workshops.

Training lectures and presentations can now be broadcast over the Internet direct to workers’ computers, instead of workers sitting in classrooms. Plus, workers can now take training courses at home, during lunch, or anytime they choose. These courses are often called “Webcasts” or “Webinars.” According to the 2008 Industrial Safety & Hygiene News survey, 63 percent said they had watched and listened to a safety “Webcast” in the past year.

Industrial trade associations
Many industry trade groups in the U.S. provide industrial safety and hygiene training to their member companies. Training is designed for specific types of businesses, such as chemical plants, pharmaceutical plants, express delivery services, even brick manufacturers.

In the state of New Jersey, for example, construction companies have combined to form a training organization called “BuildSafe.” Construction workers and industrial safety and hygiene professional staff attend conferences and workshops to receive specific construction safety training.

Some unions, such as the United Auto Workers Union, operate safety training centers and workshops for their members. Some of this training is co-sponsored by the union and manufacturers such as Chrysler or General Motors or Ford Motor Company.

The Voluntary Protection Program Participants’ Association (VPPA)
Today, 1,957 worksites fly the VPP flag. Many of these worksites rely on individual or teams of employees to carry out safety responsibilities. Once a year many of these worksites send their teams of employees to the annual VPPPA conference, or regional VPPPA meetings, for training.

In the U.S. with 8.9 million worksites, the VPP training effort involving 1,857 sites is a small venture. But it takes many training options or sources, such as the ones described here, to reach the many, many millions of workers who need industrial safety and hygiene skills.