Contemplating The Safety Career Track

For those considering a safety career in the concrete products industry, the author offers the viewpoint of a 30-year veteran of the safety, health and


For those considering a safety career in the concrete products industry, the author offers the viewpoint of a 30-year veteran of the safety, health and environmental (SHE) profession, bringing to bear on its central issues 20 years’ direct involvement as an employee, consultant, or SHE column research editor÷

Excluding specific aspects identified in the following discussion, the concrete products industry is like any other field in which a safety professional may find employment. In the concrete products industry, however, a safety professional usually holds the broader responsibility of regulatory compliance manager, rather than safety manager as in some industries. Most safety professionals in concrete products are responsible for fleet safety, environmental compliance, industrial health, and occasionally, other duties not related to regulatory compliance, such as quality control or human resources.

An explanation regarding the acronym SHE reveals volumes about the SHE manager. In a wide range of companies, SHE may be listed also as EHS or HSE or S&H: the particular acronym often depends on the manager’s profession of origin. An HSE manager, for example, is usually an industrial hygienist; hence, the H for health leads the title. Similarly, a trained environmental professional who enters the regulatory compliance field will usually identify the company department as EHS.

The variable backgrounds among safety professionals in the concrete products industry may be attributed to college curriculums in safety, or health, or safety and health, or environmental science. No college curriculum combines all three in a single program. Consequently, a definite need exists in the concrete products industry, as well as many other fields, for a broadened degree in regulatory compliance management.

While education requirements for SHE professionals vary considerably among concrete products companies Û from no college education to advanced degrees Û the trend is definitely toward hiring college-educated SHE professionals. SHE professionals who have no formal education usually find their way into the safety field via a career in production.

Relative career stability is primary among the profession’s attractive features, but job stability is far less certain. Since regulatory constraints on industry are increasing worldwide Û even in the U.S. during Republican administrations Û the demand for professionals to monitor compliance is likewise growing. Signs of professional stability, however, belie individual job security threatened by a widespread tendency to cut staff, usually following a takeover or management reorganization, to slash costs and improve profits. Staff reductions also typically follow a decline in sales orders. Thus, compliance personnel are known to say sarcastically, Safety First. Comforting, though, is the fact that concrete products are here to stay.

In any industry, a significant drawback of the profession is functioning as an overhead staff member with little or no chance of promotion out of the regulatory field. The lack of opportunity for advancement may be attributed to the SHE professional’s limited exposure to business management, financial, or sales operations, leaving him or her continually unqualified for promotion. Although many safety professionals refer to this situation as the glass ceiling, being chronically unqualified for promotion is the safety professional’s primary obstacle to advancement. SHE professionals are also commonly considered outside the ring of influence and separate from the company’s internal social culture. That peripheral status Û a most undesirable situation for some Û should constitute a major consideration for anyone entering the field.

Furthermore, a problem encountered too often is upper management’s ignorance of the profession. Ironically, just as the safety professional seldom sees the complexities of managerial and financial operations, company officers may not understand the complexities of the SHE profession. Difficulties arise when unqualified personnel are put in a SHE position because the hiring manager fails to properly apprehend a highly complex field. In addition, poor upper-management decisions due to ignorance of the profession can generate serious long-term problems, or costs, for the company Û a source of concern for the SHE professional who immediately recognizes the dilemma. Supported by law, regulatory requirements are commonly regarded by the SHE professional as nonnegotiable, while management decisions may reflect a disregard for such regulations due to the cost of compliance. A large dose of denial, which makes all reasoning impossible, exacerbates these issues, creating a risky situation for SHE professionals, all of whom struggle at some time or another to resolve the problems with varying degrees of success.

Similar to people in general, perhaps, most SHE professionals want to do a good job, which is sometimes erroneously interpreted as keeping the company in compliance with regulatory requirements. That aim is undermined by the fact that the SHE professional lacks authority to ensure compliance, even though such authority may be granted on paper for the satisfaction and protection of upper management. Company policies may reflect this situation, e.g., Any employee has the authority to stop work any time a hazard is encountered, or It’s okay because the safety manager saw it and didn’t say we couldn’t do it. In fact, the safety manager knows that saying ÎnoÌ could mean a shorter career with the company, since the professional is then described as not a team player, or not on board with the program, or fails to work with us. Nebulous language thus used signifies, That guy is going to shut us down by recommending we comply with various regulations. At the very least, he’ll cost us a fortune; therefore, we need to get rid of him. Consequently, though all SHE professionals have authority on paper, most seldom use it or reserve its use for situations that are immediately life threatening, as work stoppages entail drastic financial results for everyone.

Salaries vary widely depending on education and certification. Safety is a profession similar to the medical field in that certifications are required. A noncertified safety professional will typically earn significantly less than a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) recognized by the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP). Individuals entering the profession with a bachelor’s degree in safety or safety engineering typically earn an annual salary of $25,000 to $40,000. Typical mid-career salaries range in the neighborhood of $50,000 to $70,000. Individuals overseeing large corporate safety programs may earn over $100,000. The American Society of Safety Engineers’ website suggests a slightly higher mid-career salary between $60,000 and $75,000 per year for the average safety professional with a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

According to the last BCSP salary survey, conducted in 2000 and based on approximately 5,000 respondents, the mean CSP salary was $75,291. The BCSP website advises that if these salaries are adjusted for inflation (approximately 3 percent per year), the BCSP projects a Certified Safety Professional’s salary for 2006 of $89,901. The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) annual surveys indicate that a Certified Industrial Hygienist Û CIH as certified by the American Board of Certified Industrial Hygienists Û tends to earn about $10,000 per year more than a Certified Safety Personnel (CSP).

Possibly due to the diversity of environmental jobs in a variety of professions, environmental professionals do not have a single all-encompassing organization, as do safety personnel with the BCSP or health professionals via the ABCIH. Estimates suggest that environmental professionals typically earn approximately the same as safety professionals when working in the industrial compliance arena.

Finally, the safety profession offers an honest and noble vocation. One need provide no excuses for participation in the field. This writer has been associated with hundreds of safety professionals, and almost all have been conscientious, diligent, dedicated people who want to do the right thing and to make a difference in the working world. That earns high marks in any profession.


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently released its regulatory agenda. Following are highlights applicable to concrete production:

Pre-rule Stage

  • Occupational exposure to crystalline silica
  • Cranes and derricks
  • Excavations (Section 610 reviewed)
  • Emergency response and preparedness
  • Hazard communication
  • Revision and update of standards for power presses

Proposed Rule Stage

  • Confined spaces in construction
  • Updating OSHA standards based on National Consensus Standards

Final Rule Stage

  • Amendments to the final rule on respiratory protection for assigned protection factors
  • Employer payment for PPE
  • Revision and update of various electrical standards

Long Term Actions

  • Walking and working surfaces
  • Personal fall protection systems in general industry
  • Hearing conservation programs for construction workers