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Research / Discovery

Colorado universities work to address projected significant shortfalls of occupational health and safety professionals

October 26, 2011

As oil and gas development activities continue to expand throughout the West, companies will have a tough time finding managers who know how to help keep roughnecks safe.

worker in a hard hatLikewise, nurses who know how to manage programs that prevent health care workers from being “stuck” by HIV-infected needles will be increasingly hard to find in the coming years. In some particular areas of expertise, labor shortages will run as high as 85 percent, according to a new study.

The recent study, conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, concludes that, while employers throughout the country expect to hire about 25,000 occupational safety and health professionals in the next five years, educational programs that produce occupational safety and health professionals expect to graduate less than 13,000 over the same time period.

“We want to produce as many professionals as we can,” said Steve Reynolds, a professor who teaches occupational safety and health at Colorado State University as part of the state’s School of Public Health. “But there is limited funding available for educational programs.”

The National Assessment of the Occupational Safety and Health Workforce is a study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in partnership with Westat. The study surveyed two groups. Companies that employ safety and health professionals were asked what their expectations were over the next five years in terms of hiring, such as required skills for new employees and projected retirements of existing employees.

The assessment also surveyed university professors who teach safety and health professionals to recognize and manage on-the-job hazards. Many safety and health professions require a master’s degree or higher. In spite of successful, federally supported programs such as Colorado’s Mountain & Plains Education and Research Center, employer demands are higher than what universities are able to supply because of limited resources in programs.

Due to relatively low awareness about these well-paying professions, incentives to draw young talent into the field are necessary. The Mountain and Plains Education and Research Center is one of 17 university-based centers throughout the country that provides specialized education in occupational safety and health accompanied by direct financial support from NIOSH to attract new talent.

Of the students graduating with a master’s degree or higher in occupational health and safety over the next five years, about 45 percent will receive direct support through NIOSH. Because of organizations like Mountain and Plains Education and Research Center, the number of students entering the field has generally increased over the last five years, even though it’s not enough to meet the expected demand.

Companies in the West that employ workers in industries such as agriculture, mining, oil and gas development, construction, health care, forestry and fishing currently rely on more than 11,000 well-trained safety managers, occupational medicine physicians, industrial hygienists and other specialists to keep their workers safe, healthy and productive.

The National Assessment of the Occupational Safety and Health Workforce provides evidence that there is a growing need to support occupational safety and health education throughout Colorado and the U.S. Continued funding for programs in occupational safety and health is crucial to ensure employers’ needs are met.

To access the full report, go to http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/oshworkforce/.

The Mountain and Plains Education and Research Center is one of 17 education and research centers funded by the Centers for Disease Control’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The center is collaboration among five institutions: Colorado School of Public Health, University of Colorado, Colorado State University, National Jewish Health, Denver Health and Hospital Authority, and the University of New Mexico Health Science Center. These institutions come together to provide graduate level occupational and environmental health and safety training, continuing education and outreach in a seven-state region. The center, which is within the Colorado School of Public Health, shares an established track record of commitment to training, research and continuing education.

For more information about the center, visit maperc.ucdenver.edu or email maperc@ucdenver.edu.


Contact: Dell Rae Moellenberg
E-mail: dellrae.moellenberg@colostate.edu
Phone: (970) 491-6009