SWCOEH celebrates 40 years of education and research as a NIOSH ERC

sw ctr podium 1HOUSTON – Recently, the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (SWCOEH) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health celebrated its 40th year as one of the first nine established and eight continuously funded NIOSH Education and Research Centers in the country.
Four decades have passed since the center began its pledge to promote and improve health, safety and well-being in the workplace and the community. For forty years, from 1977 to 2017, with contributions from SWCOEH Board of Advisors and partners in industry, government and other organizations, the SWCOEH has played an invaluable role helping to improve the life of workers and residents in Texas, the U.S. and elsewhere. 
Welcome and introductions from UTHealth School of Public Health professor and SWCOEH ERC center director, Elaine Symanski, Ph.D. kicked off the day. 
“We will maintain our commitment to train the next generation of occupational and environmental health professionals and continue to collaborate with our stakeholders to conduct research and translate research to practice, which will enhance the health, safety and wellbeing of workers and residents in Texas, the nation and the world” said Symanski. She concluded with these earnest words, “With great challenges ahead, we must remain steadfast, remembering that the work than any one of us can do alone pales in comparison to the work that we can do together. Our work matters and it is impactful because it serves to protect workers and community members who often themselves have little voice.” 
Following Symanski in welcoming guests were Eric Boerwinkle, PhD.,. dean of UTHealth School of Public Health and Michael R. Blackburn, Ph.D., executive vice president and chief academic officer of UTHealth.
The event master of ceremonies was George Delclos, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D. who is a University of Texas System distinguished teaching professor. "The fact that this is one of the longest running, continuously funded NIOSH Education and Research Centers in the U.S. underscores its value and contributions to the health of workers, and the drive and commitment of its staff, students and faculty,” said Delclos. He is also former director of the SWCOEH ERC (1997-2006) and is currently the deputy director of the SWCOEH.
Guest lecturers included former SWCOEH ERC center director, Sarah Felknor, Dr.P.H., who is now associate director for research integration and extramural performance at NIOSH. Felknor presented on the history, evolution and future plans and challenges of NIOSH training programs in occupational safety and health (OSH) and discussed past NIOSH efforts at national OSH workforce assessments.
David Michaels, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., a former and longest-serving Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) administrator, reflected on melding workplace safety and health with corporate sustainability. Michaels was assistant secretary of labor for OSHA from 2009-2017 and is currently professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University. 
The SWCOEH research and outreach poster showcase held by affiliated students, faculty and staff highlighted research and outreach in the environmental and occupational health science program. Historic and current posters were on display for viewers to review and discuss.
A Total Worker Health Armchair Panel discussed polices programs and practices that integrate protection from work-related safety and health hazards with promotion of injury and illness prevention efforts to advance worker well-being. Moderated by R. Sue Day, Ph.D. , professor of epidemiology at UTHealth School of Public Health - SWCOEH, discussions varied from local industry leader views on how they are researching and implementing Total Worker Health to the next matter of new graduates trying to break into industry and apply the Total Worker Health concept. Panelists included SWCOEH ERC board of advisors Faiyaz Bhojani, M.D., Dr.P.H., F.A.C.P. of Shell Health; J. Jack Hinton, Dr.P.H., C.I.H. of Baker Hughes; and James Shelton, M.S. of OSHA. To round out the panel other members included Christopher M. Kaipust, MPH, who is a doctoral candidate and NIOSH ERC trainee here at UTHealth School of Public Health and Dr. Sarah Felknor of NIOSH.
The day concluded with renowned occupational health photojournalist Earl Dotter’s "Life's work: a fifty year photographic chronicle of working in the USA. " Mr. Dotter shared photos and tales of his journey alongside US workers from times of the 1968 hazardous work, deaths and fight for justice by coal miners that accrued black lung disease to the more recent times of the 2001-2002 cleanup of Ground Zero in New York City. One of Mr. Dotter’s mottos has been to “seek to personalize the subjects so viewers can see the common ground they share with the subjects.

— Written by Michelle McDaniel, SWCOEH Continuing Education Coordinator, Michelle.R.McDaniel@uth.tmc.edu

Photos by Shannon LaDuke, Communications Manager, Shannon.LaDuke@uth.tmc.edu