Safety and health is a cornerstone part of any operation. Businesses have a responsibility to create safe work conditions for their employees. They’re continually staying on top of industry statistics and evolving OSHA regulations to create better workspaces and mitigate health risks.
All of the above is usually performed by Health and Safety Managers, but there’s another level of EHS that’s also responsible for continuous improvement and development in health and safety: Safety Engineers.
What Is Safety Engineering?
While safety managers are the ones that enforce the day to day safety practices, training, and prevention efforts, safety engineers are the ones that design the systems, technology, environments, and processes that allow safety managers to do their jobs effectively.
They close the gap between safety leaders, research and development, and engineering to allow every area to succeed.
It’s a complicated, difficult responsibility because multiple disciplines must be taken into account. It’s not just a matter of understanding how a proposed process will work, but also how it affects other areas of operation, structural components, and employees. There’s much data collection, research, and analyzing required for successful safety engineering. In addition, safety engineers must also operate with the foresight to determine potential problems with their systems in the future.
In many cases, safety engineers are often the reaction to a disaster or incident. When a major injury, death, or accident occurs on the job, safety engineers are called in to assess the situation and see where improvements can be made to prevent such an occurrence from happening again.
But companies should be well aware that the value of safety engineers should be recognized before accidents occur in order to mitigate risk and fix issues before they become problematic.
The Benefits of Safety Engineering in the Workplace
Having the expertise of a safety engineer in your organization can prove to be a valuable component of any EHS department. Their main goal is to control risk to your company in ways that safety leaders and managers cannot. Their understanding of systems and operations is broader because they look at deeper level components and consider the “big picture” before implementing their ideas.
In addition, safety engineers have an educational background in engineering and apply those same principles to create a safe work environment. They have a strong comprehension of science, math, and design to help them develop effective systems that continue working even when other parts fail.
What to Look for in a Safety Engineer
Most safety engineers have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in one of the following fields: mechanical, electrical, civil, or industrial engineering (or related engineering degree), industrial hygiene, geoscience, or geo-design. A Master’s degree may be required in some cases for those who want to work on more complex projects and design systems.
Additional skills should include the following:
- Excellent communication and responsiveness;
- Computer skills;
- Knowledge of compliance requirements, personal protective equipment, and training requirements; and
- A strong desire to work with and improve the existing safety systems in a company.
Also, safety engineers may take additional professional development courses from highly acclaimed governing bodies like the Safety and Health Institute or the American Society of Safety Engineers.
Should Your Company Have Safety Engineers on Your Payroll?
Safety engineers provide an invaluable service to any organization, but do you need to have one or more on your payroll at all times?
In some cases, having your own safety engineer or team of engineers makes sense. Larger companies who can afford it and that have an increased potential for risks should consider creating full time positions for safety engineers.
The other option is to outsource your safety engineering responsibilities to a company that specializes in this type of engineering. You can choose to bring in a safety engineer on an annual basis (or more often, if necessary) to do a thorough inspection. He or she can work with your safety managers to collect and analyze data and develop improvements without the ongoing expense of a full-time employee.
Of course, this option means not having an engineer at your disposal at all times, but it can give you access to a broader variety of professionals to make your safety department the best it can be.
Further reading: A Day in the Life of a Safety Professional