Recruiting the next generation of occupational safety and health workers

In 2011, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) released a report assessing the nation’s need for occupational safety and health services. The report found the “future national demand for occupational safety and health services will significantly outstrip the number of professionals with the necessary training, education and experience to provide such services.”

A number of efforts are under way to address these concerns. One of the most successful to date is the Occupational Health Internship Program (OHIP), which marks its 10th anniversary this year along with successful completion of the internship by 179 students.

The program is administered by the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics (AOEC) and funded through federal grants, private foundations, union and worker center donations and other sources. The mission of OHIP is to recruit, train and mentor the next generation of occupational health and safety professionals. To date, more than a third of the interns have remained in OHS or related fields. Others have gone into other professions positively influenced by their experiences.

This quote from one intern helps tell the real success story of OHIP:

“The knowledge that I have gained from OHIP will forever impact the way I view jobs. Prior to OHIP, I did not put much thought into safety and the work environment. I had been in public health for many years before OHIP, but didn’t have experience or exposure to OHS. The internship definitely changed the way I look at workplace health and safety.”

The nation’s workforce demographics require our interns to develop skills to address diverse languages and cultures. OHIP is a very structured internship with both site supervisors and academic mentors. OHIP interns usually work in teams of two for nine weeks during the summer. Projects encompass workers in key industries/occupations facing a range of hazards. Some of the projects involve working with organized labor, and many involve worker centers and community-based organizations that support various populations, including contingent workers.

OHIP interns have been involved in projects with workers in nail salons, restaurants, transportation (taxi drivers), healthcare, forestry, agriculture, airline baggage handling and many other jobs. Projects have involved risks to young employees, chemical exposure hazards, ergonomic risk factors, heat stress and workplace violence, among others.

It is a paid internship and minority and economically challenged students are encouraged to apply. A majority of our interns speak at least two languages, and many are first-generation citizens.

To learn more, the recent edition of New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, Vol. 23, No. 2, features an in-depth article on Shaping the Future: Ten Years of the Occupational Health Internship Program.

UL Workplace Health and Safety helps employers build a safety and healthy culture from the people up.