What Is an Industrial Hygienist and What Do They Do?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Discover how to qualify for industrial hygienist jobs, what the occupational health role is, and the skills needed to become an occupational hygienist.

[Featured Image]:  Two industrial hygienists are discussing and checking the conditions of the workplace to see if there are hazards that have to be corrected.

Industrial hygienists use their knowledge of science, engineering, and psychology to identify and evaluate hazards, develop controls to protect workers, and implement safety programs in the workplace.

As an industrial hygienist, you’ll specialize in protecting the health and safety of workers in industrial and commercial settings. This involves anticipating, recognizing, evaluating, and recommending solutions to risks. You’ll strive to protect workers from exposure to harmful substances, conditions, and activities. You may hear industrial hygiene called occupational health, occupational hygiene, or workplace health. 

Becoming an industrial hygienist may be a great choice if you enjoy working in the sciences, putting your technical skills to work, and helping others.

What are the main tasks and responsibilities of an industrial hygienist?

As an occupational hygienist, you'll use science to assess environmental and workplace hazards and develop and implement strategies to control or eliminate worker risks. Some industrial hygienists work more on anticipating and planning for threats, and some work more on reparatory interventions and management of risks to improve workplace processes, protocols, and protection. Some of the primary duties you'll do in this job role are:

  • Conducting exposure assessments to determine if workers are at risk

  • Recommending ways to control or eliminate exposure to hazardous materials

  • Designing and implementing industrial hygiene programs

  • Training workers to protect themselves from exposure to hazards

  • Researching the health effects of exposure to hazardous materials

Workplace hazards

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines a workplace hazard as a “hazardous condition or activity that has the potential to cause harm to workers.” 

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a direct work process assessment by a qualified and licensed worker is the most effective way to identify workplace hazards. Potential hazards are present in nearly every work environment, and you need to identify and address potential hazards to protect your employees.  Some common workplace hazards include:

  • Slips, trips, and falls

  • Electrical hazards

  • Working with hazardous chemicals and biological hazards 

  • Exposure to dust, fumes, and other airborne particles

  • Noise exposure

  • Ergonomic hazards and musculoskeletal disorders

  • Inadequate ventilation

  • Poor lighting

  • Psychological hazards

By understanding the risks associated with each type of hazard, you can take steps to protect yourself and your coworkers from harm. An industrial hygienist's work involves an ongoing risk assessment and mitigation process.

What skills do you need to become an industrial hygienist?

As an industrial hygienist, you'll need a strong understanding of science to understand and evaluate data. You'll communicate effectively with other scientists, engineers, and stakeholders to develop solutions to health and safety problems. You’ll need the skills to identify and assess hazardous materials, establish safety protocols, monitor work environments, and investigate incidents. Here are some more competencies that may help you succeed:

  • Communication skills

  • Organization skills

  • Critical thinking skills

  • Interpersonal skills

  • Active listening skills

  • Detail-oriented

  • Able to work independently

  • Time management skills

  • Research skills

  • Testing skills

  • An ethical approach to work

  • Presentation skills

  • Data analysis skills

  • Investigative skills

  • Problem-solving skills

What do you need to study to work as an industrial hygienist?

To get a job as an industrial hygienist, you'll typically need a bachelor's degree in industrial hygiene or a related field, such as engineering, biology, chemistry, or physics. Without a college degree, you'll typically only qualify for entry-level occupational health roles, such as assistant and technician positions. Many industrial hygienists have master's degrees or doctorates in industrial hygiene or a related field.

Read more: What Can You Do with a Master’s in Public Health (MPH)?

Earn the Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) credential

In addition, many industrial hygienists earn the Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) credential, offered by the Board for Global EHS Credentialing (BGC), which was previously the American Board of Industrial Hygiene (BIH).

CIH is the global standard for industrial hygiene certification. 

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How much do industrial hygienists get paid?

The average base salary in industrial hygienist jobs is $81,743 annually [1]. Job growth for industrial hygienists is expected to be as fast as the average for other careers in the coming years, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting a growth rate of 5 percent between 2021 and 2031 [2].

The following are some of the job titles you may encounter when searching for industrial hygienist jobs, along with their average annual base pay:

  • Health and safety specialist: $58,183 [3]

  • Occupational health and safety specialist: $67,885 [4]

  • Ergonomics specialist: $67,244 [5]

  • Hazardous materials inspector: $62,118 [6]

  • Industrial safety engineer: $86,211 [7]

  • Industrial hygiene manager: $74,619 [8]

Read more: What Do Health Care Jobs Pay? Salaries, Job List, and More

Where do industrial hygienists find work?

Industrial hygienists typically find jobs in industries where potential health hazards are prevalent. As an industrial hygienist, you might work in a setting involving manufacturing, chemical processing, or construction, or you may work in research.  Here are some of the places industrial hygienists typically work:

  • Colleges and universities

  • Consulting firms

  • Federal, state, county, and municipal government

  • Hospitals and medical centers

  • Industrial settings, such as oil and gas, manufacturers, agriculture, transport and logistics

  • Insurance companies

  • Laboratories

  • Public utility companies

  • Research institutions

Is there good career progression for an industrial hygienist?

With around two years of experience, junior industrial hygienists can promote to senior or supervising industrial hygienists. Each step at higher levels in the profession can take about eight years. Some industrial hygienists pursue advanced degrees, which can enhance their employability for mid or senior-level roles or lead to careers in teaching or research.

Another increasingly popular alternative to a salaried industrial hygienist role is for you to move into consulting. In addition to the financial reward of excellent consulting rates, consultancy can give you more freedom to plan your work hours and vacation time.

Ready to take the next steps in your industrial hygienist career?

A Professional Certificate can help you better understand the job of an industrial hygienist and boost the skills you can demonstrate on your resume. You might like to consider the Chemicals and Health Professional Certificate offered by John Hopkins University. 

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If you’re interested in health and safety in the construction industry, then the Environment, Health, and Safety of Construction Processes content in the Construction Project Management Professional Certificate offered by Columbia University could be a good starting point. 

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Article sources

1

Glassdoor. “How much does an industrial hygienist make?,https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/industrial-hygienist-salary-SRCH_KO0,20.htm.” Accessed October 3, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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