Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health

About Us

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 Division of Epidemiology, Human Genetics and Environmental Sciences of the UT SPH and is under the leadership of Elaine Symanski, PhD and Sharon Cooper, PhD who serve as Director and Deputy Director.  The SWCOEH brings together faculty from our Houston and San Antonio campuses who work together with staff, students and community and industry partners to improve worker and environmental health.  An external advisory board comprised of members from industry, labor, government, 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.  Having grown considerably since we were established, the SWCOEH currently provides hazardous substances training to workers with NIEHS funding in partnership with the University of Utah and supports research spanning areas that include military health, ergonomics, farmworker health and workplace violence and air pollution epidemiology.  Funding primarily comes from the NIH, CDC NIOSH, DOD, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

What We Do

SWCOEH 1 | Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health

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.

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 programs.

Continuing Education and OutreachFarmworkers | Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health

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.


Academic Programs

Taking an Interdisciplinary Approach

hazmat 290x200 | Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health

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.

The Southwest Center offers programs in several areas, including Industrial Hygiene, Occupational Epidemiology, and Occupational & Environmental Medicine Residency.

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.

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.

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.


Detecting Patterns, Finding Solutions

EOHS basic | Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health

Research conducted by faculty and students in the SWCOEH spans the entire spectrum of occupational and environmental health.  Located in the Texas Medical Center (TMC), the largest medical center in the world focused on patient care, research, and education, the flagship campus of the UT SPH in Houston provides collaborative opportunities with other schools, hospitals and healthcare organizations in the TMC.  Houston is also home to The Houston Ship Channel, one of the busiest seaports in the nation and the greater Houston area supports one of the largest petrochemical complexes in the world.  The San Antonio Regional Campus of the UT SPH is located in the South Texas Medical Center that provides opportunities for collaboration and research with The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, as well as opportunities through the strong military presence and other government, academic, and industry partners.

Research areas of the SWCOEH include:

  • Occupational and environmental respiratory diseases
  • Migrant farmworker epidemiology
  • Workplace ergonomics
  • Occupational hazards of health care workers
  • Industrial toxicology
  • Air pollution exposure assessment and epidemiology
  • Workplace injury epidemiology
  • Cause and prevention of work-related musculoskeletal disorders
  • Work organization epidemiology
  • Health disparities
  • Hearing loss/injury in the military

International Reach

Throughout its history, the SWCOEH has been involved in teaching and research around the world and, in 1985, became a WHO Collaborating Centre in Occupational Health.

Pilot Project Research Training

dual degree 286x255 | Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health

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.

NIOSH Traineeships

field work 286x255 | Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health

Full tuition and fees support and a generous monthly stipend are available to full-time students on a competitive basis from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) (trainees must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents). Requirements for the NIOSH traineeships include acceptance into the program, maintenance of a minimum course workload, and satisfactory academic progress.

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.

Continuing Education

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. 

Subject Areas

In general, our training sessions are short (2-5 days), technical, and highly specialized. Our core subject areas are occupational medicine, industrial hygiene, occupational safety, hazardous substances and materials, HAZWOPER training, and occupational health nursing.


Our courses are attended by individuals from across the country. For our ERC courses, we target audiences in Public Health Region 6 which includes Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. Currently, our training events are held in live face-to-face sessions. In the future, online courses will be available as well.

thumb REGION6 Map | Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health

Program Philosophy

Each course is thoughtfully designed by a course director to meet participant training needs and we employ a unique blend of instructors from industry, government, and academia for a well-rounded educational experience. Didactic sessions are complemented by hands-on activities.

Your training needs are our priority. Please contact us if we may be of service.

Training Schedule

January 2014

February 2014

March 2014

  • Occupational Medicine Journal Club, March 20, Houston, TX

April 2014

  • Occupational Medicine Journal Club, April 17, Houston, TX
  • Greater Houston IH Council, April 17, Houston, TX
  • ACOEM’s AOHC, April 27-30, 2014, San Antonio, TX

May 2014

June 2014

July 2014

August 2014

  •  NFPA Fire Inspector I course, August 11-15, 2014, Houston, TX

September 2014

October 2014

  • Emergency Preparedness for Workers Caring for Vulnerable Populations, October 6-7 – TBA
  • Greater Houston IH Council, October 16, Houston, TX