Career Key

Author: Career Key's President and CEO, Juliet Wehr Jones, GCDF, J.D.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Occupational Health and Career Options: How to Learn More

Some occupational hazards may be less obvious, like stress.

In choosing a career and comparing career options, don’t forget to include occupational health in your research along with salary, education, and job outlook. Stress, longer work hours, less job security, and a trend toward smaller employers make workplace safety and health more important than ever. This post lists top career information resources related to occupational health.

While some careers have obvious hazards (law enforcement, construction), other careers may be more hazardous than you realize. For example, chemical exposure is widespread from fire fighting, to cosmetology, to working as a scientist. Learning about workplace safety and health helps you make a more informed career decision. All jobs have hazards - it's just a matter of knowing what they are, assessing the risks and being prepared.

Part 2 of this occupational health blog series focuses on how people can find information about the safety and risks of different work environments. Try starting your research online and then follow up with occupational health-related questions during informational interviews.

When looking up a career in the OOH, make sure to click on the occupation's “Work Environment” tab.  Some occupations have a separate “injuries” description. Under “Contacts for More Information,” industry organizations are listed and may have occupational hazard information. If you are using the Career Key test to explore careers that match your interests and strongest Holland personality types, all its occupations link to and use the OOH for career information.

NIOSH is one of the best, most current online resources for occupational health.  There is a convenient list of Industries and Occupations, including special sections on Women and Young Worker Safety. Their most popular document is the free “Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards”, which they hope to offer in a mobile form soon. It helps people recognize and control occupational chemical hazards.

This blog is an excellent, up to date resource on a wide range of career fields like health care, nanotechnology, stress, green jobs, and sports and entertainment. The authors explain recent research in a layperson-friendly way.

OSHA’s website has a helpful list of web-based e-tools and articles on common hazards, like bloodborne pathogens (for careers in dentistry, healthcare, emergency medicine, and adult care), green jobs, and computer workstations.

Also look at OSHA’s Safety and Health Topics.  You can do a keyword search or choose an industry or topic from a drop down menu (the easiest). For example, in 2010, nursing homes and residential care facilities had one of the highest rates of lost workdays due to injuries and illness of all major American industries. (Source: BLS).  OSHA’s nursing homes article has a list of Hazards and Solutions, with links to OHSA’s industry specific resources.

State OSHA Programs
For a more local approach to workplace safety, some states have an OSHA approved program. Here is an OSHA Program list by state. You can also do a online search for [your state] OSHA.  I’ve found that some of these state sites (I did not visit all of them) are more employer and/or enforcement focused instead of education for individuals. But your state may offer something helpful.

Other online resources:
YouTube, for specific government agencies, like the U.S. Department of Labor that has an OSHA playlist.

Informational Interview Questions
When you conduct information interviews as part of researching your career options, don’t forget to ask about their experience with occupational hazards.  Some people may not realize certain aspects of their work environment are “occupational hazards,” like stress or work schedules. So make sure to ask questions like, “What do you like least about your job?” or “How busy is your work schedule?”

Up next in this series final post:
Practical although imperfect answers to these career questions:
What should I do if I am working in an unsafe work environment or career?
How can I be proactive in protecting myself at work?

If you missed the first post: Career Choices and Occupational Health
A special thank you to Sheryl Eldridge, BBA, GCDF and others who recommended resources to me for this blog on the National Career Development Association LinkedIn Group.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Career Choices and Occupational Health: Let’s Honor Workers Memorial Day

In talking about career choices, we rarely mention occupational health hazards; but we should.  This weekend, April 28, is national Workers Memorial Day, honoring the lives of 13 Americans a day who are killed on the job.  All kinds of occupations involve fatalities: cashiers, farmers, workers in grain silos, a college football team student intern, healthcare workers infected by bloodborne pathogens.  And there are social justice impacts too: Hispanics suffer from a higher rate of work-related injuries than any other group. 

This blog starts a career planning series on workplace safety and health, and how to realistically assess our own risks in career decisions and the importance of staying mobile in the job market – a free agent – so you can leave an unsafe work environment.  This is true whether you have a stressful office job or work on an Alaskan crab boat.

Ultimately it is up to you to decide on your work environment and the occupational health hazards you can handle – with the option to leave an employer that is not taking your safety seriously.

I hope occupational health issues will become more visible in the career planning and counseling process. It is important that people have informed choices and develop job skills to gain as much job market mobility as possible.

At least two tragic reminders of workplace safety’s importance have occurred in the last week, the deadly Texas fertilizer plant explosion and just today, the factory collapse killing over 87 garment workers in Bangladesh. You might say, well, we have better standards in the U.S.

But do we really? Especially considering all the economic resources at our disposal? Failure of government enforcement (assisted by poor funding and special interest lobbies) and an insecure job market make a risky work environment. To give one example of poor performance, the ratio of OSHA inspectors has fallen over the past 30 years, with 2,200 inspectors for 8 million workplaces and 130 million workers.

While overall on the job fatalities in the U.S. have fallen since they were tracked starting in the early 1970s, there are still 13 people per day too many being killed and many more injured.  

My next post will focus on what individuals can do to find more occupation health information about a career option they are considering. In a later post, putting my employment lawyer hat on, I'll recommend realistic ways to deal with an unsafe working environment.

For more information:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries
Occupational Safety & Health Administration Common Statistics