Published on Monday, January 27, 2020
In many fields, beginning a career is pretty simple. You go to school, get a degree or gain experience, and join the workforce in your chosen field. However, there are many different ways in which people enter the safety, health, and environmental (SH&E) field. The SH&E sector doesn't require a linear progression the way a lot of careers do; it's common for people entering the safety workforce to be at many different ages and points in their career. Below are a few examples and testimonials of the different ways current safety professionals have entered the workforce.
One common way to enter the safety field is through the traditional education route. There are many different SH&E majors/minors to choose from, and graduates often enter the SH&E workforce with a bachelor's, master's, and sometimes associate degrees.
Stephanie Miller, CSP, CIH, STS realized after a conversation with her husband that pursuing a graduate degree in safety was the right move for her. "After finishing a bachelor's degree, my husband suggested going to graduate school for safety and health, and I am so glad he did," said Miller. "I love having the opportunity to positively impact people and their workplace through communication and problem-solving." Miller has since been in the safety field for seven years and serves as the Safety & Health Services Manager at UCOR.
A second common method of beginning an SH&E career is with on-the-job experience. Many people find a passion for safety after being assigned ancillary safety responsibilities by their employer. Workers in roles like human resources and management, among others, are often given safety duties which sprout into a growing desire to improve safety performance and compliance.
U.S. Air Force veteran Zachary Northcutt, CSP, CIT is a good example of someone who didn't envision a career in safety for himself, but began to enjoy the work after safety tasks were assigned to him. "Most of the time, no one wanted the additional safety duty," said Northcutt. "However, while reading the regulations, performing audits, and training, I began to really get involved with the full-time safety professionals." Northcutt eventually became his unit's occupational safety manager and currently operates his own safety company, Texas Safety Solutions, LLC.
Another path to a career in safety is through personal experience. People find themselves becoming involved in safety because they, or someone they know, were injured or became ill on the job. These experiences inspire them to pursue safety so others don't have to go through what they went through. Joe Atkinson, SMS unfortunately found his way to safety after his mom sustained a workplace injury. "My mom suffered a back injury when she was lifting a heavy load off of a cart onto a work bench," said Atkinson. "It removed her from the workforce and overnight transformed a two-income middle class family into a family struggling to survive." The incident drove Atkinson to push for safer workplace practices at his first jobs as a dishwasher and later at a supermarket. Atkinson would go on to earn his bachelor's in Safety Science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and is now the EHS Manager, Americas at Johnson Matthey.
Military service is also a very common avenue to safety. At its core, the purpose of the military is to protect citizens, so you can see why this is an easy and meaningful transition into a civilian role for many veterans. BCSP's Vice President, Strategic Advancement and Learning Solutions Josh Franklin, MBA, CSP, SMS, CIT, STS, CPCU, ARM is a perfect example of this type of entry. Franklin, a 21-year U.S. Air Force veteran, served as the Air Force's safety career field manager where he oversaw the training and development of 781 military safety professionals across the globe. However, it wasn't Franklin's initial goal to become a safety field manager. After sustaining a back injury in his sixth year of service, Franklin was told he would need to move to another career field. "Here was the opportunity to work in a profession that sought to improve the working environment and was dedicated to making sure that everyone went home safe," said Franklin. "This early introduction showed me that the SH&E profession was a purposeful higher calling and it's one I remain passionate about today."
In addition to the paths to safety, there is the importance of the destination. Safety is needed in almost every industry; from construction, to manufacturing, science and technology, agriculture, hospitality, retail, oil and gas, and the military, safety is a fundamental value that always has a need in any industry.
If you are thinking about a career in safety, read our publication The Safety Profession: Do You Have What It Takes?
Additional information about the safety profession and professional certification can be found on our Career Paths in Safety webpage.
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