Are you interested in solving the problems that face our environment? Would you like to develop safe water treatment systems or reduce the environmental impact of new construction? Read on to learn about a career in environmental safety engineering.
Environmental safety engineers work to lessen the environmental impact of industrial activities and develop ways to repair problems caused by these activities. In this job you might advise employers on ways to design construction projects to comply with environmental regulations or you may work for the government to create or enforce regulations. You might teach safety to workers, design more ergonomic facilities or prepare compliance reports.
As this field involves the analysis of scientific data and research to solve problems, you will need to be innovative and analytical. Good interpersonal and communicative skills are necessary, since environmental safety engineers write reports and work along others. Environmental safety engineers may hold bachelor's degrees in environmental engineering, environmental science or occupational safety. You will need to maintain current knowledge of international, federal, state and local environmental regulations.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities in the field of environmental engineering were expected to grow by 31% between 2008 and 2018 (www.bls.gov). In May 2010, the BLS reported a median wage for environmental engineers of $78,740. The field of environmental science was projected to grow by 28% and the BLS reported a median salary in May 2010 of $61,700 for environmental scientists. The field of occupational health and safety, which includes environmental protection officer jobs, was projected to grow by 11% between 2008 and 2018. In May 2010, the median salary for occupational health and safety specialists was $64,660.
Entry-level environmental engineering jobs generally require you to hold a bachelor's degree in environmental engineering, preferably from a university which has been approved by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). In some universities, environmental and civil engineering are a combined degree. An environmental engineering program may take up to five years to complete, and your coursework will include soil chemistry, water quality, air pollution, limnology and environmental microbiology.
Environmental engineers who work with the public need to become licensed professional engineers. To achieve this designation, you will need to earn a degree from an ABET-approved university and pass two exams, one as you graduate. You will need four years of work experience as an engineer intern, and then to take and pass the second exam (PE). In October 2011, the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) reported that 61% of first-time test takers passed the environmental engineering PE exam (www.ncees.org). Licensing is generally reciprocal, but requirements for licensing vary by state. If you are planning to take the PE exams after 2020, new regulations will require candidates to earn a master's degree or equivalent prior to taking the PE exam.
Degrees in environmental science are generally 4-year degrees and will cover coursework in environmental science, chemistry and ecology. You will study the philosophical, social and political issues of environmental care. International, federal and state regulations regarding construction, pollution and remediation efforts will also be covered. Environmental safety engineers with this type of degree generally work on compliance-related issues, either for an employer or for the government. You may design work areas, advise on the environmental aspect of projects or inspect worksites for compliance violations.
To work as an environmental protection officer, you may want to pursue a degree in occupational safety and health. This type of degree would prepare you to work cleaning up contaminated sites or handling the storage of hazardous waste. Degree programs in occupational health and safety will cover coursework in hazardous materials, industrial hygiene and design of engineering hazard controls.
Many environmental safety engineers go on to earn master's degree in environmental engineering, environmental science or industrial hygiene for advancement, licensing and/or to gain a broader knowledge of the field. Coursework in these master's degree programs might include organic chemistry, public health engineering and environmental microbial biotechnology. Doctoral degrees are offered both online and on campus by a number of universities and will prepare you to work in research or as a university professor.
Credentialing and continuing education programs are offered by both the Environmental Protection Agency (www.epa.gov) and the Occupational Health and Safety Association (www.osha.gov) in topics such as hazardous waste procedures, clean air and water, and occupational and environmental regulations.