Occupational safety COVID

(ROSENBERG, Texas) – Occupational safety and environmental compliance jobs are already challenging and in demand, particularly in industry-heavy Houston.

However, COVID-19 has added new hurdles for professionals on both the occupational and the environmental sides of the industry.

“It’s actually pretty chaotic,” said Andrea Skinner-Creeks, a Texas State Technical College Occupational Safety and Environmental Compliance instructor.

On the occupational side, workplace regulations are changing.

Skinner-Creeks attended a class last month in Houston that brought together compliance professionals and companies to discuss regulations for COVID in the workplace. An attorney was on hand to answer questions, and frustrations were high on all sides.

“Laws don’t get made overnight,” Skinner-Creeks said. “It takes years. With COVID, we don’t have years. We have to implement stuff.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor has frequently updated its website, osha.gov, to address workplace safety amid the challenges presented by a swiftly changing pandemic.

In the classroom at TSTC, Skinner-Creeks urges her students to be aware of those updates.

“It’s definitely a moving target — everything is fluid,” she said. “I try to get the students to channel their analytical skills. You have to be able to reason your way through things.”

Skinner-Creeks covers everything from instilling a basic understanding of pathogens to the proper disposal of medical waste. She also ensures that her students know how to put on and take off protective gloves — there is a proper method.

On the environmental side of the issue, incinerators are backlogged for disposal of everything from regular manufacturing waste to the increase of medical waste — and personal protective equipment like gloves and masks. The delay has affected logistics on keeping certain items in stock due to storage limitations.

“All that ties into an environmental health and safety specialist,” Skinner-Creeks said. “Their job is really challenging right now.”

There are silver linings, though, she adds. Safety laws that were written and implemented vaguely — and that often require letters of interpretation — are being addressed more specifically. And an increased emphasis on workplace safety and compliance means additional opportunities for careers in the industry.

In Texas, occupational health and safety technicians can earn an average annual salary of $46,840, according to onetonline.org, which projects that the number of technicians in Texas will grow by 16% through 2028. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that Texas employs the most occupational health and safety technicians, with the Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land metropolitan area first among other metropolitan areas for the highest employment level of these positions.

The demand for qualified professionals will continue to expand, Skinner-Creeks said, explaining that she can foresee companies hiring multiple technicians to address all facets of occupational and environmental safety.

“I see a lot more positions out there,” she said. “Companies are really gearing up (to hire health and safety professionals) because they want to remain functional. There’s going to be a lot of room for opportunity and growth.”

TSTC offers an Associate of Applied Science degree in Occupational Safety and Environmental Compliance at its Breckenridge, Fort Bend County and Waco campuses.

To learn more, visit tstc.edu.

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