Having three jobs, or at least two jobs and periodically staffing a concert or special events, is more the rule than the exception these days. Over the years, I have met a select few medics or EMTs who could survive on single-job wages. Pay is one of the true short comings in a life dedicated to the safety of others. Unfortunate but true. Short of having a spouse for a second income, life necessitates spreading ourselves thin for that extra W2. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for EMTs and paramedics was just over $36,000 per year in 2020.1 Now, this number does not take into consideration those extra jobs. For my part, while working exclusively on the truck meant I was pulling 72 hours a week regularly. I never saw my family and I was always physically and mentally exhausted.
There may be options for the medic or EMT with field experience. Years ago, I landed a job working as a medic offshore that transitioned into working as a medic for a pipeline company. My rate of pay was commensurate to that of my ambulance staff counterparts. On that first job, I was officed in the Department of Safety. Safety as an occupation is the art and science of predicting hazards, investigating what happened in an accident, creating a plan to respond or prevent an accident from ever occurring. In addition, the men and women of the safety programs provided training to oncoming employees and contractors. If someone got hurt, the safety professional would go to the hospital with the employee and make sure they got the best medical care possible. Sound familiar?
One cloudy and misty afternoon, I was sitting in my responder vehicle in the middle of nowhere north Texas. I was at the edge of an excavation out in a thousand-acre property when it finally happened. One of the welders was grinding down some slag on a weld when the grinding wheel fragmented and blasted through his face shield. The welder was immediately rendered unconscious. Pieces of the wheel ripped off his left cheek as they lodged in his sinuses and jaw. The welder was on the ground inside a 12-foot-deep trench bleeding profusely. Like many of the scenes I had been on over the years, all the welders’ coworkers were screaming and getting excited. I made my way into the trench and with a quick lesson on back boarding and moving a patient, a handful of welders and two safety guys had the welder out of the trench and in the back of my responder vehicle. We made our way to the closest road where an ambulance was to meet us.
It took nearly 30 minutes to traverse the right-of-way next to the excavation to the waiting ambulance. At the ambulance, a basic EMT crew gladly let me maintain patient care as myself and one of the safety guys jumped in the ambulance for transport. While I worked the welder with the crew, the safety guy began making calls. He called the site leadership to advise them of the accident. He called a supervisor to start heading to the welder’s home. He called the welder’s wife to let her know what happened and that he had a vehicle making its way to pick her up. As we arrived at the hospital, I began unloading. The safety man was still making phone calls. He called local hotels and arranged lodging for the welder’s wife. Finally, the safety man called the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and made a report of incident.
In the hospital, the safety man stayed close so I could explain procedures and answer medical questions. It seemed his education was limited to the OSHA law, regulations and customer service. All night he and I sat with the welder’s family while he went from the ER to surgery, and finally into a room. In the early morning hours, we took the welder’s wife to the hotel and made arrangements for someone to bring groceries to her later in the day. As we left, the safety man started writing his reports. His reports and accident narrative looked familiar. Information I would have put in an EMS narrative was all there, minus the medical treatment section. When all was done, he and I were back at the yard. The next day was upon us and we did what we both had done many times in the past, washed our faces and started the next shift.
My time in safety as the medic led me to ask questions and learn as much as I could. When the job ended, the head of the department asked if I had ever considered going into safety. I asked him what I had to do to get started. The advice he gave me I hand off to every medic or EMT who asks the same question. He told me to go to the job boards and see what companies required for safety, then go get those certificates.2 I asked if I was able to start working in safety as an apprentice of sorts. He told me yes, but unfortunately, they could only start me at $40 per hour. I literally about swallowed my gum! I started doing my research and he was shooting me straight. I found that on average the safety professional was earning around $72,000 per year working about 40 hours per week.3 For me it was a no brainer. I updated my resume, went as-needed at the hospital and ambulance service, and took a job with the pipeline.
Within two weeks, my job classification went from medic to safety. The transition to a safety role from being in emergency services was like riding a bike, down a hill. Most of the time when you are not dealing with researching policy, you are working with injured employees. It’s not like I had not been doing that for the last two decades. My safety expectations and job duties consisted of the following:
- Provide training to new hires
- Investigate accident scenes
- Provide medical treatment to injured or sick employees
- Write reports and have them in by the end of each shift
- Look for hazards that could hurt people and get rid of them
For the safety professionals I worked with, I became a valuable resource. When someone was injured, I was the first call, even when there was a medic assigned to their unit. When there was someone on workman’s compensation, I assisted the safety team in explaining medical terminology. If there was training to be done, it was comfortable as it generally dealt with how to keep from getting hurt. Truly, the step into the safety career was like moving from EMT to paramedic – it just made sense. In addition, the company was eager to send me to school for safety certifications. Over the next two years, I became certified in safety and authorized by the Department of Labor to teach OSHA 10 and 30 classes. May salary went up with every new certification. What started in the $70,000 range quickly went over $100,000. The increases were great and the work was fulfilling.
I went on to earn my Master of Science Degree in Occupational Safety and Health which unexpectedly opened more doors. Once earning the degree, I started getting calls from law firms to assist in cases where employees had been injured on the job, or to assist with a client who had issues with OSHA inspections. Without fail, every attorney that found out I was also a medic hired me on the spot. My professional rate had nearly tripled in six years. Now, years later, I teach safety and EMS at the college level. When I want to jump the ambulance, I have no trouble finding a willing EMS provider who needs a paramedic. When I want to work in the emergency room, I schedule a shift at one of the emergency rooms I maintain a relationship. At my core, I am and will always be a medic. These days, I get to be a medic who enjoys family time. This career path is open to anyone who has done their time in the back of the truck, fire station or emergency room. You can keep helping your community and get paid what you are truly worth.
If you are considering the step into safety, here are the classes I would recommend. Before I give you the list, know that face-to-face classes are the most productive. Online is great, and in many cases it is the only option. But when you have the opportunity to be with the instructor, there is a better chance to discuss areas of uncertainty. As Every medic should start with an OSHA 30 course. This class in 30 hours and usually meant for safety supervisors or operational leadership. This is a good class to get basic information on OSHA and safety. The next class you would consider would be the OSHA 511 course for general industry or the OSHA 510 course for construction. In these classes, respectively, you will break down the OSHA law. Over several days you will go through the entire federal law for that section of industry. I tell everyone, the OSHA 511 or 510 are the first real classes of the safety professional. In fact, every person I hire to come into safety, I require them to take the OSHA 511 and the OSHA 510 class. Understanding how the law relates to what we do is essential. It is like the medical-legal class you took in EMT school, only these classes are federal.4
If you want to work toward certification, consider the Certified Safety and Health Official (CSHO) certification. This certification is offered at the college level from an OSHA recognized school, or OSHA Training Institute.5 If you are not the college type, don’t get scared. Many of these classes are a week to two weeks in duration and they tear down the OSHA law by section. For example, within the CSHO certification, there is an entire week class on fall protection as well as a full week’s class on respiratory protection. I have found, those professionals who came from the fire department could teach these classes as well as any instructor. The second avenue, for those who want the college experience is to become a Certified Safety Professional (CSP).6 The certified safety professional certification requires specific degrees to apply. Once qualified, the applicant must pass a written exam. For the CSP, there are annual continuing education requirements. Both certifications will put you on the path to a financially stable career. As my first boss in safety told me, “Your bank account will thank you for it.” Be cautious of certifications offered online that you do not find on recognized job boards. There are a lot of companies that will take your hard-earned dollar to give you a safety certification that is quite literally worthless.
2. Competencies required to manage a safety and health program.
4. Baldwin, R. S. (2001, January). Developing Highly Effective Construction Safety Professionals. In ASSE Professional Development Conference and Exposition. American Society of Safety Engineers.
5. See OSHA Training Institutes and certificates offered by state, https://www.osha.gov/otiec/degreeprograms/bydegreelevel#certificates
6. See The Board of Certified Safety Professionals, https://www.bcsp.org/CSP