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National assessment of the occupational safety and health workforce.

McAdams MT; Kerwin JJ; Olivo V; Goksel HA
Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Contract 200-2000-08017, 2011 Oct; :1-246
A fundamental part of the mission of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is developing and supporting a new generation of occupational safety and health (OS&H) professionals, which in turn is critical to the future of occupational safety and health. As part of its mission, NIOSH therefore funds programs to support occupational safety and health education through regional university-based Education and Research Centers and Training Project Grants. NIOSH currently supports training in nine disciplines - occupational safety, industrial hygiene, occupational medicine, occupational health nursing, health physics, ergonomics, occupational epidemiology, occupational health psychology, and occupational injury prevention. The changing nature of the U.S. economy, along with the shifting needs of the workforce, requires NIOSH to understand whether it is providing sufficient support for the training of OS&H professionals and, of equal importance, whether it is supporting the kind of training employers need to meet their OS&H program requirements. The National Assessment of the Occupational Safety & Health Workforce was conducted to help NIOSH determine how best to utilize and disseminate its training funds. The two key needs NIOSH expressed for this assessment were to: 1) Assess the current supply and future demand for OS&H professionals; and 2) Determine the desired professional competencies (i.e., knowledge, skills, and abilities) required for the next 5 years. NIOSH determined that any assessment capable of providing reliable information to answer these questions would require surveying both employers of OS&H professionals and providers of training to OS&H professionals. The Employer Survey component of the assessment was therefore drawn from across the broadest possible spectrum of the U.S. economy. The Provider Survey was directed at all U.S.-based educational institutions providing training to OS&H professionals at the bachelor's degree level and higher. An advisory Task Force, consisting of OS&H professionals from a variety of businesses, Government, unions and academia, was created to provide input on the development and conduct of the assessment. Prior to the two surveys, NIOSH also received valuable input from focus groups with professionals from the nine OS&H disciplines of interest to the assessment, as well as employers and trainers of OS&H professionals. Westat, a statistical and survey support contractor based in Rockville, Maryland, conducted the assessment under a contract with NIOSH. Employer Survey Methodology: The Employer Survey used a national probability sample designed to cover the vast majority of employers of OS&H professionals. Following this approach, North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes were selected that identified establishments employing 75 percent of all OS&H specialists. The study was limited to these establishments in consideration of costs and likelihood of locating OS&H professionals. A stratified sample of 7,602 establishments was drawn based on an assumption that at least 85 percent of them could be reached during the screening process. For most employer categories, the sample was limited to establishments employing 100 or more persons. For consultants and government locations, establishments with as few as 10 employees were included. A sample generated from a supplemental list of occupational health clinics, regardless of size, was also used. Sampled establishments were screened by telephone to determine whether they directly employed at least one OS&H professional, and if so, to identify and invite the person most knowledgeable about OS&H activity at the establishment to respond to a web survey. The questionnaire collected information about OS&H professionals at the sampled establishment, the professionals' training needs, the establishment's expected hiring needs over the next 5 years, and related topics. During the January-April 2011 data collection period, 470 completed surveys, and another 69 partially completed surveys contributed to data analysis. The final response rate was 34.5 percent. Provider Survey Methodology: For the Provider Survey, a survey population composed of NIOSH-supported and non-NIOSH supported OS&H academic programs at a U.S.-based institution that: (1) included coursework in one or more of the nine OS&H disciplines of interest to the survey; and (2) was part of a course of study leading to a bachelor's degree or higher. To identify eligible programs, information was obtained about programs through Education and Research Centers (ERCs) and Training Project Grants (TPGs) as well as through relevant professional associations and professional certification bodies. This information was supplemented through literature searches. After de-duplication, the final product of this research was a list of 340 OS&H education and training programs, which served as the target population for the Provider Survey. As with the Employer Survey, data collection was conducted through a web survey. This questionnaire collected information about numbers of expected graduates (both in the current year and over the next 5 years, trends in enrollment, quality of students, funding for the programs, barriers to students wishing to study OS&H, trends in employment for their graduates, faculty characteristics, including future hiring and expected retirements, and trends in continuing education needs. The Provider Survey was conducted from February until early May 2011. A total of 202 surveys were completed, for a final response rate of 65.2 percent. Study Limitations: While the assessment provides a rich source of data on the demand for and supply of OS&H professionals, along with their training needs, it is important to recognize that like all surveys, the Employer and Provider Surveys are subject to various sources of error. Some of the estimates produced from the Employer Survey are based on rather small samples of employers. In particular, very few employers we surveyed reported that they employ ergonomists, health physicists, occupational epidemiologists, injury prevention specialists, or occupational health psychologists. As a result, the estimate we have generated for these professions are potentially subject to high degrees of sampling error, and thus have wide confidence intervals. The results may also be subject to various sources of measurement error - such as respondents misunderstanding the intent of survey questions, or possessing little knowledge on some of the topics addressed. Finally, the estimates derived from the data may be subject to some degree of nonresponse error - bias due to systematic differences between survey respondents and those who did not respond to our survey requests. Results: The Employer and Provider Surveys provided considerable data on a variety of topics of interest to the many stakeholders in occupational safety and health professions. This report focuses on data pertaining to NIOSH's two key objectives for conducting the workforce assessment. Highlights of the research findings follow. Current Size of Workforce: The survey shows that currently there are over 48,000 OS&H professionals in the U.S. workforce across the nine disciplines of interest to this study: The composition of the current OS&H workforce is primarily safety professionals (59%), followed by industrial hygienists (15%). The other major disciplines represented in the survey data were occupational health nursing (9%) and occupational medicine (3%). Employer Survey Data: a) Employers expect to hire over 25,000 OS&H professionals over the next 5 years, needing to fill an average of just over 5,000 positions per year; while many of these positions will be filled by new graduates of OS&H training programs, many are likely to be filled by OS&H professionals currently in the workforce or by professionals who do not have OS&H training. These latter groups were not included in this survey. b) Safety professionals represent about 71 percent of the OS&H professionals employers expect to hire over the next 5 years; about 76 percent of these are expected to be bachelor's degree-level professionals. c) Employers expect about 10 percent of safety professionals to retire within the next year; for the other OS&H professions the retirement projections are lower. d) The workforce is graying, more among occupational physicians and occupational health nurses than safety and industrial hygiene professionals; however, we estimate that a large number of OS&H professionals in these disciplines are over the age of 50. e) Employers generally seemed satisfied with the level of competency of current graduates. For future hires, employers for some disciplines seemed to desire that new OS&H graduates also have training in non-core competencies and in other OS&H areas. Training Program Provider Expectations for New OS&H Graduates: a) In 2011, OS&H programs graduated about 2,845 new OS&H professionals at the bachelor's degree level and higher; and over 5 years expect to graduate just under 13,000 OS&H professionals. The 5-year projection represents a slight decline in enrollment. The decline is projected to be about 3 percent in ERCS, 8 percent in TPGs, and 13 percent in non-NIOSH funded programs. b) Over the next 5 years, about 69 percent of OS&H graduates will be from safety programs, 12 percent will be from industrial hygiene programs, and 3 percent each will be from occupational medicine and occupational health nursing programs. Data from providers also shows that there has been an overall decline in OS&H program funding over the past 5 years. While funding from outside sources has held steady or increased, funding from within the institution appears to have decreased. The decrease appears to be more common among non-NIOSH funded programs. Conclusions and Recommendations: Difference Between Expected Hires and Expected Graduates. The estimated number of OS&H professionals employers expect to hire in 2011 and over the next 5 years is substantially higher than the number estimated to be produced from OS&H training programs. It is unclear to what extent the estimated number to be hired will be new OS&H program graduates versus OS&H professionals currently in the workforce or non-OS&H trained professionals. However, the differences overall and among individual disciplines suggest the need to produce additional graduates. Anticipated retirement figures notwithstanding, this applies to the four major OS&H disciplines (safety, industrial hygiene, occupational medicine, and occupational health nursing), but particularly to safety and occupational health nursing. A joint effort of employers and providers may be a desired approach to determining how to best address the apparent decline in enrollment to close the difference between estimates of OS&H professionals needed and the estimates of graduating OS&H professionals. Apparent Decline in OS&H Program Funding. The apparent overall decline in funding for OS&H programs from university, college or department sources, particularly among programs not provided funding by NIOSH, along with the projected decline in the numbers of OS&H students, is troubling given employers' hiring expectations, anticipated retirement figures, the "graying" of some of the disciplines, and the quality of students enrolling in programs. Additional study may be worthwhile to identify means to address the decline in funding as well as the obstacles cited by provider respondents interfering with students who might wish to pursue an OS&H degree. The most frequently cited obstacles for students were financial aid and lack of knowledge of the program. Employers and providers should work together to determine how best to improve knowledge of programs among students in the early years of college and before they reach college. Competencies of OS&H Professionals. Survey results regarding competencies of current OS&H professionals suggest that employers generally are satisfied with their employees' level of training in their work areas. Employers' desired competencies for new hires appear to be similar to those for current OS&H employees. However, the survey data show a desire for new hires to have training in additional areas, primarily relating to leadership and various forms of communication, and to have training in one or more of the other disciplines of interest to this study. There also appears to be a preference on the part of many employers to focus hiring among bachelor's-level graduates. Providers and employers will also need to continue to work together to assess what competencies can or should be part of undergraduate education.
Work-environment; Work-capacity; Workers; Occupations; Occupational-health-programs; Occupational-health-nursing; Occupational-medicine-programs; Occupational-safety-programs; Professional-workers; Education; Educational-research-centers; Educational-resource-centers; Safety-personnel; Teaching; Training; Health-programs; Public-health; Industrial-health-programs; Industrial-hygiene-programs; Industrial-safety-programs; Nursing; Epidemiology; Ergonomics; Injury-prevention; Health-physicists; Psychology; Psychologists
Westat, 1600 Research Boulevard, Rockville, MD 20850-3129
Publication Date
Document Type
Final Contract Report; Task Order Report
Funding Type
Fiscal Year
Identifying No.
Contract-200-2000-08017; B12212011
Source Name
National assessment of the occupational safety and health workforce
Performing Organization
Westat, Rockville, Maryland
Page last reviewed: May 11, 2023
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division