How to Become a Certified Industrial Hygienist: Career Roadmap

Oct 20, 2021

Find out how to become a certified industrial hygienist. Research the education and training requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in industrial hygiene.

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Certified Industrial Hygienist

What is an industrial hygiene technician? Certified industrial hygienists (CIH), also known as occupational health and safety professionals, evaluate safety issues in working environments and implement solutions to these occupational hazards. Specifically, these professionals identify particular health hazards within the workplace, such as pesticides, communicable diseases, asbestos, noise, and lead.

The majority of occupational health and safety specialists, including certified industrial hygienists, work full-time. Hours may include evenings, weekends, and nights, especially during times of crisis. These professionals travel frequently to sites and work in a wide range of environments, indoors and out. This job carries some risks, so hygienists are required to use protective clothing, gear, and equipment to keep themselves safe.

An industrial hygienist is responsible for ensuring workplace safety

Industrial Hygienist Duties

Job duties of industrial hygienists include the following:

  • Inspecting machines and work equipment
  • Understanding safety protocols for a variety of environments
  • Writing and presenting reports
  • Creating new workplace processes to increase safety
  • Explain safety precautions to employees
  • Investigate accidents and safety incidents in workplaces

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree standard; master's degree required for some positions
Degree Fields Industrial hygiene, occupational health and safety, biology, chemistry, engineering, physics
Experience Varies; some positions may require just 1 year of experience, while others require at least 3 to 5 years
Certification Certification is optional
Key Skills Strong communication and problem-solving skills, detail oriented, physical stamina, ability to use complex testing equipment
Salary $87,718 per year (2020 median salary for all industrial hygienists)
Job Outlook (2019-2029) 4% growth (for all occupational health and safety specialists and technicians)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Board of Industrial Hygiene, Salary.com (2020)

A bachelor's degree is standard to work as a certified industrial hygienist, and a master's degree is required for some positions. Relevant fields of study include industrial hygiene, occupational health and safety, biology, chemistry, engineering, and physics. Experience requirements vary - some positions may require just 1 year of experience; others require at least 3-5 years. CIH certification is optional.

These professionals should be detail-oriented and have strong communication and problem-solving skills. Industrial hygienists also need to have physical stamina and possess the ability to use complex testing equipment.

How to Become an Industrial Hygienist

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Relevant bachelor's degree programs that prospective industrial hygienists may complete include occupational health, chemistry, biology, engineering, and physics; there is no specific industrial hygiene degree. The American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH) has specific occupational hygienist requirements regarding coursework that students must take in order to become a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH). Regardless of their major, students must take 180 academic contact hours of specific industrial hygiene courses. Of these 180 academic hours, at least half must be related to the broad subjects of fundamentals of industrial hygiene, controls, measurements, and industrial hygiene toxicology. Remaining coursework may address hazards, such as confined spaces, lead, asbestos, and mold.

Most bachelor's degree programs in industrial hygiene or occupational health and safety offer opportunities for internships. These experiences can occur in a variety of settings, such as government, business, and industry. By participating in an internship, students can gain practical work experience and learn more about the responsibilities of an industrial hygienist.

Aspiring industrial hygienists should develop excellent interpersonal and communication skills. These skills are needed to communicate safety concerns and instructions to both employees and managers. Aspiring industrial hygienists must also be able to work closely with technicians. To enhance these skills, students can take advantage of public speaking and psychology courses.

Step 2: Complete On-The-Job Training

On-the-job training is needed to learn the various applicable laws and inspection techniques of various work environments. Training will be specific to the environment in which an individual works. For example, an industrial hygienist who works in a factory will receive different training than the one who works in an office setting. During the beginning of training, individuals are supervised by an experienced professional. Depending on the complexity of the job, supervision may last up to one year.

Step 3: Earn Certification

Most employers prefer to hire industrial hygienists who have earned certification as a CIH. The ABIH is the organization that offers the examination needed to become a CIH. To be eligible for the CIH exam, candidates must have a bachelor's degree from an accredited university that includes completion of specific coursework related to industrial hygiene, have professional field experience, and provide two professional work references.

Step 4: Maintain Certification

The CIH certification must be renewed every five years. The certification maintenance process consists of multiple steps and involves a point system set up by the ABIH. The points can be gained through further educational courses, teaching, mentoring, attending conferences, giving presentations, authoring, and participating in committees, as well as general professional work. Hygienists can also choose to retake the examination rather than achieve certification maintenance credits.

Step 5: Consider a Master's Degree for Career Advancement

Although a bachelor's degree is one of the primary occupational hygienist qualifications, obtaining a master's degree may be needed for more advanced positions and can make one eligible for leadership roles. Individuals can pursue master's programs in a variety of disciplines, including industrial hygiene, occupational and environmental health sciences, occupational hygiene, and public health. Coursework for these graduate programs includes applied biostatistics, evaluation of chemical hazards, essentials of public health, and environmental sampling and analysis.

Step 6: Consider Joining a Professional Organization

There are several professional organizations for industrial hygienists that you can choose from in order to connect with others working in your industry and to find opportunities for career advancement. For instance, the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) provides professional development opportunities and more. The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) is another option that can provide you with a number of benefits. Consider also looking into local institutions to find more professional organizations.

Industrial Hygienist Salary

According to 2020 wage data from Salary.com, the median annual industrial hygienist salary was $87,718. The highest-paid 10% of workers in this field earned $119,058 or more, while the lowest-paid 10% earned $63,885 on average during the same time period. Those working in this field can expect around a 4% job growth between 2019 and 2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Occupational Hygienist Work Settings

Here are just a few of the places that occupational hygienists might work:

  • Factories
  • Office settings
  • Construction sites
  • Waste disposal and treatment plants
  • Hospitals
  • Government sites

To summarize, aspiring certified industrial hygienists need to earn at least a bachelor's degree in occupational health, biology, physics, or a related field, though a master's degree might be needed for higher-level positions.

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