Journal of Nature and Science of Medicine

: 2022  |  Volume : 5  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 120--123

Occupational Safety and Health Personnel are Not All the Same: How to Know the Differences and Make Best Use of the Right People

Basim Ahmad Baragaba1, Tee L Guidotti2,  
1 American Board of Internal Medicine, American Board of Preventive Medicine, Certified Occupational Medicine, Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
2 American Board of Internal Medicine (Internal Medicine and Pulmonary Medicine), American Board of Preventive Medicine, Certified Occupational Medicine, Canada and USA

Correspondence Address:
Basim Ahmad Baragaba
Building 553, Room 222-4, Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare, Dhahran
Saudi Arabia


Occupational safety and health (OSH) is a multidisciplinary field concerned with the safety, health, and welfare of the workers, their families and communities. It requires teamwork among different OSH professionals like physicians and nurses, engineers and industrial hygienes. This article provide overview for OSH professionals and roadmap for appropriate classification and licensing to ensure assigning the task to the right person to achieve the intended goals.

How to cite this article:
Baragaba BA, Guidotti TL. Occupational Safety and Health Personnel are Not All the Same: How to Know the Differences and Make Best Use of the Right People.J Nat Sci Med 2022;5:120-123

How to cite this URL:
Baragaba BA, Guidotti TL. Occupational Safety and Health Personnel are Not All the Same: How to Know the Differences and Make Best Use of the Right People. J Nat Sci Med [serial online] 2022 [cited 2022 Nov 27 ];5:120-123
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Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 document details a comprehensive program for national transformation with goals and targets to be achieved by 2030, including, but not limited to, reinforcing economic and investment activities and increasing nonoil-associated international trade. The National Industrial Development and Logistics Program has become one pillar of the main twelve programs called Vision Realization Programs, which were established in 2019. Its aim is to transform the kingdom into a leading industrial country and global logistic hub, in addition to making the kingdom competitive and attractive as an ideal destination for local and foreign investors.[1] To achieve this, the kingdom is committed to present investment opportunities that are low in risk, sustainable, financial market, and that provide safe, clean, and decent work for its subjects. Therefore, there is an urgent need for a National Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Program. Consequently, the Council of Ministers of Saudi Arabia approved the regulations for the national OSH committee on February 8, 2022.

OSH requires teamwork among OSH professionals of different types, including physicians and nurses, engineers, physicists, education, hygiene, enforcement personnel, and managers with the same goal of preventing harm to the worker, his family, community, property, and environment. The roles of occupational health and occupational safety are often confused. They are not the same. This article explains the differences.

Occupational health practitioner, occupational health nurse, occupational medicine physician, OSH, occupational safety, environmental health and safety, and industrial hygiene usually are used interchangeably by many people are several distinct professions in OSH, each with its own skills, capabilities, and credentials. Lack of understanding results in many noticeable mistakes, such as job title/description mismatches, inaccurate license classifications, and tasks wrongly assigned to the correct profession.

The traditional OSH professions are: (1) occupational medicine physician, (2) occupational health nurse, (3) Safety professional, and (4) industrial hygiene (often called “occupational hygiene”). They all share the same goal of identifying hazardous practices, conditions, and materials in the workplace and also assisting employers and workers in eliminating or reducing these risks, preventing injuries, illnesses, and workplace fatalities. The main purpose of this article is to elaborate how these different OSH personnel who have different backgrounds and training work as a team to complement each other while working toward the same goal and also to provide more insight for the licensing classification authority for consistent and appropriate classification for health-care providers.

 Occupational Medicine Physician

Also known as an occupational and environmental medicine physician is a specialist or specially trained practitioner in occupational medicine. Occupational medicine is the field of medicine that ensures a healthy and safe workplace for every member of society and a safe environment for all involved in a given task. An occupational and environmental medicine physician possesses a unique combination of skills, knowledge, and attitudes that are necessary when addressing issues in the work environment, notably the management of complex occupational and environmental hazards associated with industrial activities, fitness for work assessments, development, implementation, and evaluation of occupational health surveillance programs, prevention of occupational injuries and diseases, and the promotion of health, safety, and welfare in the work environment. They also have a broad knowledge of the science underlying occupational health practices, including epidemiology, industrial hygiene, toxicology, ergonomics, radiation biology, and physiology. Some specialists have added additional training to include medical aspects of specific areas of work such as aviation, hyperbaric medicine, and disability impairment rating. Clinical practice in occupational health involves independent decision-making and ethical challenges between obligations to an individual patient, the employer, and the general public. Occupational medicine physicians help implement and regulate the best practices and legislative requirements set by the national and international standards or authorities. The training program for occupational medicine is usually undertaken in a subspecialty program after successful completion of an internal or family medicine or an emergency medicine residency training program. Clinical training is done first because the occupational medicine physician should have an excellent foundation of knowledge, deep understanding of the natural history of medical conditions to make disability or fitness-for-duty decisions, undertake accident and/or death causation investigations, and address legal aspects in the workplace which have significant tangible and intangible benefits for the employee, employer, and economy.[2],[3]

 Occupational Health Nursing

Also known as occupational health practitioners or industrial nurses, are responsible for working in partnership with other professionals and with other OSH professionals, human resources personnel, and employers and employees to execute workplace health and safety, health and well-being, and surveillance programs in response to the needs of individuals workers, worker populations, and community groups. In some occupational health settings, an occupational health nurse is the primary provider of services, such as direct health care for minor injuries and illness of workers and case management to coordinate the health services, ideally from the onset of occupational injury and/or illness through planning to help a worker return to work safely. They have in-depth knowledge of the potential health hazards of specific industries and are aware of the health and safety legislation and employment laws related to a specific country and industry. They are usually registered nurses with a master's degree, most commonly a master's degree in public health with a concentration in OSH, or a master of science degree in OSH. Such qualifications cover the occupational health sciences, such as toxicology, industrial hygiene, safety, ergonomics, health promotion, epidemiology, social and behavioral sciences, and legal and ethical issues related to occupational health and its regulatory mandates. Extra certifications for more in-depth training in the specific area of occupational health can be earned, for example, a certificate in industrial audiology and hearing conservation program (HCP), spirometry, and case and stress management. Some people with bachelors' degrees in health science may take the same master's degree program as described above after which they can then be recognized as “occupational health practitioners” although they do not have the same privileges or capabilities as registered nurses.

 Safety Professionals

Safety professionals are a more mixed group that includes OSH personnel, safety coordinators, and safety representatives. A wide range of university degree programs ranging from 2 to 4-year programs, such as diploma, bachelor's, and master's degrees, are available. Students almost always come into this field from other disciplines, such as engineering, business, and the physical sciences, and often are led to it by their personal experiences. Degrees in this field are usually offered by a school of science, engineering, or public health. A major in safety usually has competencies and courses in OSH program management, toxicology, ergonomics, hazard identification and control, industrial hygiene, accident investigations, safety products, behavioral aspects of safety, construction safety, fire protection, biology, and statistics. The Ministry of Human Resource and Social Development in Saudi Arabia has developed license authority for OSH professionals based on the degree and years of experience.[4] The responsibility of the safety professional is to carry out the goals and objectives of a safety program within a given industry. This includes identification, anticipation, and evaluation of hazardous conditions and practices in the workplace and ensuring compliance with safety, health, environmental laws, standards, and regulations. They design, develop, implement, and administer programs in addition to advising others on hazard controls. Evaluating safety performance in the organization, auditing, training workers, problem-solving, reviewing safety procedures, and measuring the effectiveness of hazard controls and hazard control programs are key responsibilities.

 Industrial Hygiene

Industrial hygiene is defined as “that science and art devoted to the anticipation, recognition, evaluation, and control of those environmental factors or stresses arising in or from the workplace, which may cause sickness, impaired health, and well-being, or significant discomfort among workers or among citizens of the community. Industrial hygienists use environmental monitoring and analytical methods to detect the extent of worker exposure and employ engineering, work practice controls, and other methods to control potential health hazards.”[5] The industrial hygienist assesses human exposure to different hazards by using different qualitative and quantitative methods and then performing laboratory analyses for collecting samples to assess exposure to chemicals, physical hazards (such as noise), and biological agents in addition to ensuring that the workplace is in compliance with regulatory standards. Because industrial hygienists have a higher level of training than safety professionals, their responsibilities also generally include comprehensive audits of health hazards and potential risks of all types within the workplace setting, reviewing plans for new projects, formulating designs for recognizing and anticipating potential health risks to persons or communities, making recommendations for controlling hazards at and within the workplace, and communicating recognized hazards and control measures for workers, management personnel, customers, community member, and regulatory agency staff, and professional organization. Hygienists or safety professionals may audit or assess the effectiveness of safety and/or hazard control programs but industrial hygienists usually do so more comprehensively, for a wider range of hazards, for complicated issues, and at a higher management level in the company. The most common entry level for industrial hygiene is a master's degree after completion of a bachelor's degree in natural sciences or engineering. Some master's degree programs are offered in public health schools.[6] The courses and competencies should cover the professional and regulatory aspects of industrial hygiene practice, evaluation, control of all types of work hazards (chemical, biological, and physical) at and within the workplace, control methods, design and technology, and ergonomics. These professionals can also be licensed and classified under the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development through the previously mentioned portal. Industrial hygienists are expected to pursue continuing education courses due to changes in the manufacturing process and technology. The most recognized credential for industrial hygienist is the American Board of Industrial Hygiene certified industrial hygienist.

 Environmental and Health Safety

The knowledge of OSH is also applicable outside the workplace in areas such as the general community or environment. Exposure to different types of hazards (physical, chemical, and/or biological) can also occur outside the workplace. Therefore, what happens at the workplace can extend beyond the boundaries of the plant to affect the surrounding community and environment. OSH professionals are equipped to handle safety and health issues anywhere. Therefore, occupational health and safety professionals are increasingly involved in addressing broader environmental health and safety issues. Public health agencies or environmental authorities may hire an industrial hygienist to monitor air and water pollution. Occupational medicine physicians and health practitioners may be asked to treat lead poisoning originating from a community source. Therefore, what happens in/at the workplace can occur anywhere in the community. Thus, the name could be, and in some countries and companies already has been, changed from OSH to environmental health and safety and why in most countries today occupational medicine is now often called occupational and environmental medicine.

In addition to these four main traditional OSH professionals, there are other professionals who address specific issues. Ergonomists assess work-related tasks to determine the risk of musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace. Employee assistance professionals are responsible for identifying and supporting the employee in anything that would affect his/her productivities including but not limited to stress, marital, family, financial, health, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, emotional, Therefore, the appropriate classification, licensing, and assigning the task to the right person is crucial for achieving the intended goals [Table 1].{Table 1}


1National Industrial Development and Logistics Program. Available from: [Last accessed on 2021 May 25].
2Nicholson PJ. Occupational Health: The Value Proposition. Society of Occupational Medicine, London, United Kingdom: The Society of Occupational Medicine; 2017. Available from: [Last accessed 2021 May 25].
3General Regulations of Professional Registration and Classification – SCFHS. Available from:[INSIDE:1].pdf. [Last accessed on 2021 May 25].
4Occupational Safety and Health. 2021. Available from: [Last accessed 2021 May 25].
5Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Industrial Hygiene. Occupational Safety and Health administration, United States: Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Available from: [Last accessed 2021 May 25].
6Committee to Assess Training Needs for Occupational Safety and Health Personnel in the United States, Board on Health Sciences Policy, Institute of Medicine Staff. Safe work in the 21st century: Education and Training Needs for the Next Decade's Occupational Safety and Health Personnel. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2000.