Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health


The Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (SWCOEH) supports research, education and outreach in occupational and environmental health. The SWCOEH is housed within the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics and Environmental Sciences of the UTHealth School of Public Health and is under the leadership of Elaine Symanski, PhD who serves as Director.


The mission of the SWCOEH is to promote and improve health, safety, and well-being in the workplace and the community.

Board of Advisors

An external advisory board comprised of members from industry, labor, government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and academia provide guidance to the SWCOEH on current and future directions.


The SWCOEH was established in 1977 as a NIOSH-funded Education and Research Center (ERC), now one of 18 ERCs in the nation.  In 1985, the SWCOEH became a World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Occupational Health.  In 2010, the SWCOEH, in collaboration with our colleagues at the University of Utah, received a large 5-year Worker Education and Training (WETP) award from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to provide hazardous materials and emergency response training to workers; we place special emphasis on training returning veterans and underserved minorities.  Having grown considerably since we were established, we also conduct research on how environmental and occupational exposures affect health and on how to mitigate health risks associated with these exposures.  

What We Do


The threats to health and well-being posed by occupational and environmental factors are complex and require interdisciplinary and innovative approaches to improve the health of workers and communities.  In addition to utilizing the best available research practices and interventions, solutions must also consider geographic, economic, behavioral, cultural and political dimensions.  The SWCOEH addresses these threats by providing graduate-level education in environmental and occupational health, conducting research into the causes, prevention and control of disease and injury, engaging in research to practice activities, and providing continuing education and outreach to our stakeholders.


We conduct research in areas that include military health, ergonomics, farmworker health, workplace violence and air pollution epidemiology. Funding primarily comes from the NIH, CDC NIOSH, DOD, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Graduate-Level Education

Through the ERC, the SWCOEH provides a variety of graduate-level training opportunities for occupational and environmental health professionals through our industrial hygiene, occupational and environmental medicine, and occupational epidemiology.

Continuing Education and Outreachfarmworkers

The SWCOEH Continuing Education (CE) and Outreach Program serves as a training resource for professionals by delivering specialized courses in response to current training needs and responding to emerging issues in occupational and environmental health.

Taking an Interdisciplinary Approach

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We train occupational and environmental health professionals to recognize, evaluate and control environmental and work-related threats to health.  Just as in the larger field of public health, success at these challenges requires application of a broad range of skills, from the research lab to workplace and community settings.

An interdisciplinary approach to occupational and environmental health training is at the center of our philosophy. Through common coursework, joint projects, field experiences and research, SWCOEH creates a rich environment for exchange and interaction among faculty, students and professionals from varying disciplines.

field work

The Southwest Center offers academic programs in several areas, including Industrial Hygiene (IH), Occupational Epidemiology (Occ Epi), and Occupational & Environmental Medicine (OEM) ResidencyTraineeships are available (Full tuition and fees support and a generous monthly stipend) are available to full-time students on a competitive basis as part of our NIOSH-funded Education and Research Center (ERC) (trainees must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents). Requirements for the traineeships include acceptance into the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences (IH or OEM) or Epidemiology (Occ Epi) academic programs, maintenance of a minimum course workload, and satisfactory academic progress.

Industrial Hygiene

Industrial Hygiene is the science of anticipating, recognizing, evaluating and controlling factors that arise from the workplace that pose health and safety risks to workers and the community. For more information, Dr. Lawrence Whitehead.

Occupational Epidemiology

Occupational Epidemiology is the science of epidemiology focused on the occupational environment. This includes the assessment of health risks from occupational exposure, investigation of disease outbreaks and research to establish the scientific basis for regulation and control of chemical, physical and biological agents in the workplace. For more information, Dr. David Gimeno Ruiz de Porras.

Occupational & Environmental Medicine Residency

The Occupational & Environmental Medicine Residency is the training of practicing physicians for occupational and environmental positions in private practice, industry, government, the military or academia.  The ACGME-accredited residency program includes one year of coursework leading to an MPH and one practicum year. For more information, Dr. Arch Chip Carson. 

Graduate Assistantships

Graduate assistantships are also available to students throughout UTSPH. There are also many scholarship opportunities available through the school, professional associations, and community and advocacy groups.

NIOSH Education and Research Center (ERC) Pilot Projects Research Training Program (PPRTP)

The goal of the pilot projects research training program (PPRTP) is to enhance the SWCOEH’s regional outreach efforts in research training and to foster stronger inter-institutional ties in occupational health research within Public Health Region 6, which includes Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

Metal Air Pollution Partnership Solutions (MAPPS)

MAPPS is a collaborative research-to-action project designed to study and address health risks associated with emissions from metal recycling facilities in Houston. 

 Hypertension in Mexican-Americans: Assessing Disparities in Air Pollutant Risks

This is a research project conducted using a community engagement approach to assess the hypothesis that individual- and neighborhood-level psychosocial stressors exacerbate risks for hypertension associated with fine particulates and other air pollutants among individuals of Mexican origin living in Houston, Texas.

 Asthma in Texas Healthcare Workers II


Asthma in Texas Healthcare Workers II is a CDC-NIOSH funded R01 research project to study associations between occupational exposures and asthma among healthcare workers (HCWs), and to assess its burden in this worker population. Results will be compared to a similar study, performed by the same researchers, in 2003, to measure the impact of any new workplace practices and potential risk factors.

Working Conditions and Health in Central America


Researchers at the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (SWCOEH) in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics and Environmental Sciences (EHGES) at UTHealth School of Public Health are conducting 9000 household interviews on working conditions and health in six Central American countries, in an effort to guide policies that could improve the region’s health.

Investigadores del Centro Suroeste de Salud Ocupacional y Ambiental (SWCOEH) del Departamento de Epidemiología, Genética Humana y Ciencias Ambientales (EHGES) de la Escuela de Salud Pública de UTHealth están llevando a cabo 9.000 entrevistas en hogares sobre condiciones de trabajo y salud en seis países centroamericanos, un esfuerzo para orientar las políticas que podrían mejorar la salud de la region.

 Dairy Farm Safety


Researchers at the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (SWCOEH) in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics and Environmental Sciences (EHGES) at UTHealth School of Public Health have a 15+ year history of safety and ergonomics research in the U.S. dairy industry. Researchers have conducted dairy parlor ergonomics research focused on the identification and prevention of work-related musculoskeletal disorders among large-herd dairy farm milkers. Researchers are currently developing, delivering and evaluating a safety leadership and management training intervention for dairy farm front-line supervisors.

Your Best Response to a Changing World!


The mission of the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (SWCOEH) Continuing Education (CE) Program is to serve as a training resource for professionals and decision-makers in the occupational and environmental health fields by delivering specialized courses in response to current training needs. Our ultimate goal is to improve occupational and environmental health.  Our core subject areas are occupational medicine, industrial hygiene, occupational safety, hazardous substances and materials, HAZWOPER training, and occupational health nursing.


Tell us your training needs!  Interested in specialized training courses that you don’t see on the training calendar?  Would you like to sponsor or collaborate with SWCOEH to produce a training course for your employees or other organizations?
Email: or call 713-500-9447 to let us know how we can be of service.








Pilot Project Research Training

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The SWCOEH Pilot Projects Research Training Program was established to provide a support mechanism for pilot research projects initiated by:

  • Junior faculty exploring the feasibility of new research approaches that may allow investigators to collect preliminary data to subsequently develop larger grant applications
  • Graduate research trainees that need partial or supplementary funding to complete or enhance short term studies (e.g., doctoral dissertation research); and/or
  • Faculty trained in areas other than occupational health research who wish to apply their expertise to an occupational safety and health issue (“new faculty investigators”).

Click here to visit the Pilot Project website for additional information.