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Safety Certifications: Which Are Right for You?

Contributor: Columbia Southern University

In addition to formal education, a growing number of companies are looking for occupational safety and health specialists who hold professional safety certifications. Many positions in the industry require a bachelor’s degree, and others require a master’s, but certifications can be just as important to companies that prioritize workplace safety and seek to minimize Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations.

In this article, we explore:

1 | What is professional safety certification?

2 | Three benefits of earning safety certifications.

3 | Which safety certifications are right for you?

4 | Safety certification requirements.

What is a Professional Safety Certification?

A professional safety certification is a designation for occupational safety and health specialists that proves that they have the experience, knowledge, and skills required to be successful in preventing safety violations and promoting a safe work environment. Certifications typically have an experience requirement and an education requirement, and individuals usually must pass an exam to earn the designation. Many certifications require individuals to meet additional requirements after a certain amount of time to keep their designation.

Three Benefits of Earning Safety Certifications

A certification tells employers that you have not only completed the necessary education, but you also have experience in the field and the knowledge required to pass a specialized exam. Here are three ways that safety certifications will benefit your career:

1 | Potential for Higher Salaries: The Board of Certified Safety Professionals conducted an industry salary survey in 2020. According to their findings, full-time safety professionals with at least one of the 12 certifications identified within the survey could earn approximately $20,000 more per year than those with none. Respondents with the Certified Safety Professional®, offered by the BCSP, had a median base salary of $30,000 more than those who have none of the 12 certifications.

2 | Job Mobility: In addition to higher salaries, certifications also put you in a stronger position if you’re considering moving up in your organization or finding a job elsewhere. If you’re up against safety professionals with similar education and experience backgrounds, your certifications may be a tiebreaker.

3 | Knowledge of Trends and Industry Best Practices: Maintaining a certification often requires continuing education. You’ll be better prepared for additional responsibilities since you’ll be studying the latest trends, standards, regulations, best practices and laws regarding safety and health in the workplace.

Which Safety Certifications Are Right for You?

Putting the work into earning certifications makes you more employable and can contribute to higher earnings. The question, then, isn’t whether you should seek certification, but which certifications are right for you?

Although there are dozens of options to choose from, we included six of the most well-known and widely sought-after safety certifications in the flowchart below. For more details about the specific certifications, skip ahead to the safety certification requirements section.

Safety Certification Requirements

There are some similarities in education and work experience for the various safety certifications, but they each serve a different kind of safety professional. Here’s a breakdown of the requirements for six common safety certifications.

ASSOCIATE Safety Professional® (aSP)

Offered by the BCSP, the Associate Safety Professional® is an entry-level certification. To qualify, you need at least one year of experience in a role where at least half of your time is spent on safety duties.

For the education requirement, you need either a bachelor’s degree or an associate degree with at least 12 semester hours of coursework in areas related to the ASP® exam. All applicants need to pass the exam for certification regardless of education.

Certified Safety Professional® (CSP)

Also offered by the BCSP, the Certified Safety Professional® is the next level of certification above the ASP®. The CSP® has similar requirements for the type of work you do, but you must have at least four years of work experience in the field and a bachelor’s degree is required.

A CSP® designation requires applicants to have an existing BCSP-qualified credential, such as an ASP®. If you meet the qualifications, you also need to complete the CSP® exam and maintain your certification via continuing education.

Related: How Your Safety Degree Can Get You One Step Closer to Your CSP [Webinar]

Graduate Safety Practitioner® (GSP)

Although not a safety certification itself, the Graduate Safety Practitioner® designation recognizes individuals who are on their way to earning the CSP® credential and provides an alternative path to earning the ASP® first. Students who are enrolled in a Qualified Academic Program – one that has been reviewed and approved by the BCSP – can receive a waiver for the ASP® exam as a requirement for the CSP®. After earning a GSP®, you have six years to gain the required work experience and take the CSP® exam.

Columbia Southern University’s Bachelor of Science in occupational safety and health was recognized as a QAP by the BCSP in October 2017. Then, in April 2019, CSU’s master’s degree in OSH and its environmental management concentration also earned the QAP designation.

Certified Safety and Health Manager (CSHM®)

Designed to recognize experience across the entire continuum of safety management, the Certified Safety and Health Manager is issued by the Institute of Hazardous Materials Management (IHMM). To earn this credential, you must have both technical knowledge of the principles of safety as well as a foundation in business and financial principles. Safety professionals with the CSHM understand how safety and health fit into the overall management of an organization. The exam covers leadership, planning, management, preparation and other topics.

To earn the CSHM, you must have at least a bachelor’s degree and five years of experience in the field. If you have a degree from an IHMM Board-Approved School like Columbia Southern University, you may qualify for the CSHM with less years of experience than you would need with a degree from another school.

Related: CSHM Certification Can Boost Employment Appeal for Safety Professionals

Certified Industrial Hygienist® (CIH)

Awarded by the Board for Global EHS Credentialing, the Certified Industrial Hygienist credential recognizes an individual’s knowledge and skills in biological, chemical, physical, ergonomic and psychosocial controls to prevent injury or illness and ensure the well-being of employees. To earn the credential, you need:

  • A bachelor’s degree in a related program with either 60 credit hours in science or math courses at the bachelor’s degree level or 15 hours at the junior, senior or graduate level.
  • Industrial hygiene coursework, including 180 academic contact hours or 240 continuing education contact hours with at least half of those hours in the areas of Fundamentals of IH, Toxicology, Measurements and Controls, plus at least two hours of ethics training or coursework.
  • At least four years of professional experience in industrial hygiene.
  • At least two professional references who can confirm your experience.

Once you meet the requirements, you must pass the exam to earn the credential.

Related: How to Become an Industrial Hygienist

Certified Hazardous Materials Manager (CHMM®)

If you will be working with hazardous materials, the Certified Hazardous Materials Manager designation offered by the IHMM is worth pursuing. Designed to demonstrate your knowledge and experience in this field, qualifying for the CHMM requires a bachelor’s degree and at least four years of work experience in hazardous materials or a related field.

Like the other certifications, the CHMM requires applicants to pass an exam.


Regardless of your certification goals, CSU can help you along the way. We’ve built meaningful relationships with certifying organizations and safety-focused nonprofits, our Department of Continuing Education offers several safety certification exam prep courses, and our graduates are now making an impact in many different safety and emergency management careers.

Learn more about our comprehensive online degree options for occupational safety and health by visiting ColumbiaSouthern.edu/Safety.

About Columbia Southern University

Columbia Southern University is a private institution that provides diverse learning experiences and affordable, flexible distance education programs at the certificate, undergraduate and graduate levels to a global student body, delivered by qualified, student-centered faculty committed to teaching and student learning. The university is dedicated to providing exceptional academic and student support services.

Members and employees of the Voluntary Protection Programs Participants’ Association (VPPPA) receive a 10% Learning Partner tuition discount, as well as their spouses and children.