Shortage of OSH Professionals Coming Soon, NIOSH Survey Predicts

The warning confirms problems that are well known -- students aren't well aware of OSH degree programs, for example -- and highlights funding cuts felt by academic programs that do not receive NIOSH funding.

A new report from NIOSH predicts that the national demand for occupational safety and health services will far exceed the number of professionals with the necessary training, education, and experience to provide them. The conclusion is based on a national survey.

While employers plan to hire at least 25,000 OSH professionals in the next five years, only about 12,000 new graduates are expected from the academic programs that fill the need. According to NIOSH, these hiring estimates include new or replacement positions.

"Robust businesses are essential for U.S. economic recovery and growth and, in turn, safe and healthy workplaces are a vital ingredient of any successful business plan," said NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard. "The results of this NIOSH-commissioned survey suggest a troubling shortfall of professional expertise at a time when such services are most needed. NIOSH will continue to work with partners and stakeholders to identify and pursue ways to meet this critical training need for the 21st Century. The need for an adequate supply of trained professionals is particularly great, as we anticipate that growing numbers of older professionals will retire over the next decade and as new technologies continue to enter the workplace requiring specialized skills and knowledge. For more than 40 years, under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, NIOSH has provided fundamental support for the academic programs that provide such training."

NIOSH commissioned the survey in 2008 from Westsat, an independent research firm that designed and conducted it. The agency said the survey found that:

  • Degree programs in occupational safety and health have experienced declines in funding from university, college, and department sources, especially among programs that do not receive NIOSH funding.
  • Students who might be interested in an occupational safety and health degree face inadequate or limited financial aid and a lack of knowledge about these degree programs.
  • While employers generally are satisfied with OSH professionals' level of training in their specific work areas, they would like new graduates to have training in additional relevant areas, including leadership and communication.

The report, titled "National Assessment of the Occupational Safety and Health Workforce," is posted on the NIOSH website at www.cdc.gov/niosh/oshworkforce/ and printed copies will be available later this year.

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