Is there such a thing as a safety engineer?

Aug. 18, 2005
I've been a safety manager since 1978.

I can truthfully, and without bias, say the misuse of the term "safety engineer" is a serious one, denigrating to all engineers. As I understand it, NO American college of engineering offers a "Safety" Engineer curriculum (as opposed to civil, structural, etc). Thus, whenever I see the term "Safety Engineer" in an editorial or similar area of a safety publication, I raise Cain with the editor. Is this a losing battle? Gerald E.

It is my opinion that the title "engineer" has more to do with a person's knowledge, experience, creativity, and the ability to perform an engineer's duties in a professional manner than with the piece of paper that an academic institution confers.

I have worked with many nondegreed engineers over my career who were head-and-shoulders superior to many degreed engineers. One example is a tooling engineer I knew. Management decided that it was more cost efficient to bring in a degreed engineer to train under this tooling guru, and then offer the experienced engineer an early retirement package to get rid of his salary.

After the young engineer made some very serious (and expensive) errors in judgment, they brought back the tooling engineer as a consultant. He stayed for a number of years, charging much more for his services than he had been getting paid as an employee.

Though I myself have two engineering degrees, the nondegreed engineers with whom I have worked have helped me round out my engineering and safety knowledge and experience. For this I will be forever grateful.

Licensing boards for most states also make allowances for nondegreed applicants when considering the prerequisites for becoming a licensed professional engineer (PE). The stamp used by nondegreed engineers who've earned the PE doesn't look any different than the one used by degreed engineers. The roads, bridges, high-rise buildings, and any other drawings and plans that require the sign off of a PE may very well have been signed off by one of these nondegreed engineers.

The same goes for safety engineers. By the way, colleges and universities do indeed offer degrees for safety engineers. The University of Mich., University of Minn., and Northern Illinois University, to name a few, have safety-engineering programs. In any case, capability rather than a piece of paper determines whether a safety engineer is competent.

Lanny R. Berke, P.E., C.S.P.

is a registered professional engineer and a Certified Safety Professional involved in forensic engineering since 1972. Got a question about safety? You can reach Lanny at [email protected]

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