American manufacturing has come a long way since 1906, when Upton Sinclair penned his muckraking novel "The Jungle." The book's lurid descriptions of abuses in the meat packing industry sparked outrage and major reforms -- food and drug laws were created that same year, abetted in part by the book's publication.
These days, workers and consumers are protected by a slew of laws, notably the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970. Occupational health and safety inspectors ensure compliance with worker-protection laws, as well as industry standards and company policies.
Though factories are rarely the hellholes of Sinclair's day, they do require oversight. A recent example: Occupational Health & Safety Magazine reported in December that workers were exposed to dangerous levels of lead at Refractory Installation and Construction Headquarters Inc. in Pennsylvania. Cases like these reveal that occupational health and safety inspectors continue to play an important role in keeping workplaces safe.
What they do
Workplace hazards come in many varieties, from carpal tunnel syndrome to poor air quality to exposure to hazardous materials (the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan comes to mind). Occupational health and safety inspectors are responsible for assessing places of employment to determine if dangers exist. They also aim to prevent future disasters by analyzing historical data such as patterns of accidents and illnesses.
Many inspectors work for federal, state and local governments -- 41 percent are public employees, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Others work in private industries including manufacturing, mining, construction and oil and gas extraction. These inspectors, and those who work for insurance companies, are often responsible for minimizing financial losses due to workers' compensation claims or lawsuits.
What they need
A bachelor's degree in occupational health or safety, or a related field like engineering, biology or chemistry, is generally considered a minimum qualification. Advanced degrees are helpful for inspectors whose work requires additional technical or scientific expertise, for example carrying out research about the effects of health hazards in a particular workplace or factory.
What they earn
According to CBSalary.com, the national average salary for an occupational health and safety inspector is $128,463. However, this average figure is influenced by some high-earning outliers, and may not represent most workers in the field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics put median annual wages of occupational health and safety specialists at $62,250 in May 2008, with the highest earners ($73,180) working for the federal government and the lowest earners ($55,600) working for state governments.
The BLS projects that employment of occupational health and safety specialists (a category that includes inspectors) will grow 11 percent between 2008 and 2018, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Inspectors who work in loss prevention for private companies are likely to see the strongest job prospects, while those who work for governments will see limited growth due to budget constraints and a call by the public to reduce spending. Growth will also be hampered to a degree due to the departure of manufacturing jobs for other countries with cheaper labor costs, the agency reports.
Last Updated: 19/01/2012 - 9:11 AM