Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health

SWCOEH trainees and residents gain valuable experience through Occupational Health Field Trips

SWCOEH trainees and residents gain valuable experience through Occupational Health Field Trips

HOUSTON (April 18, 2023) – A worthwhile benefit of a traineeship or residency with the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (SWCOEH) is the location in the Texas Medical Center, which is close to a wide variety of some of the largest world’s corporations. SWCOEH’s Industrial Hygiene (IH) trainees and Occupational and Environmental Medicine (OM) residents attend biweekly field trips during the Spring semester to various locations around Houston. 

These trips are part of the “Occupational Health Field Trips” course, led by William “Brett” Perkison, MD, MPH, the OM Residency Program Director, and Wei-Chung Su, PhD, the interim Industrial Hygiene Program Director. The trips offer a range of environments, from a mushroom farm to chemical refineries and a biosafety lab. The Friday sojourns allow the students to learn from professionals in roles they could hold after graduation.

“This class is a great way of gaining knowledge about how these big companies operate,” said Shafali Patel, a SWCOEH IH Trainee. “We learn about different safety protocols and standards being followed at each facility.”

“The field trips have been a great experience,” said Shelley Forse, another SWCOEH IH Trainee. “We saw the plant at LyondellBassell and had a great overview with their industrial hygienist. At Anheuser Busch, we saw many of their processes, machinery, and lab. Dow’s facilities were nice – they had a nice on-site medical clinic and health and wellness center.”

The 2023 field trip lineup includes Lone Star Mushroom, the LyondellBassell Bayport Complex, Dow Chemical, Anheuser Busch, and the Galveston National Laboratory, one of two Biosafety Level 4 laboratories in the U.S.

“This class provides our students with a critically important step in their educational experience – real world applications of the principles of health and safety that they have learned in school,” Dr. Perkison said. “We approach the field trips as an exercise as a student auditor. That is assessing the various workplaces for health and safety features that stand out for protecting the worker and to look for opportunities to improve on as well. The Houston area provides an immense breadth of manufacturing processes to observe; from the perspective of the small business owner to the health and safety management of international Fortune 100 manufacturing corporations. This rotation also provides students with a chance to get to know one another during their weekly presentations as well as an opportunity to meet potential employers who lead the tours.”

“The variety of trips allow for exposure to new ideas, perspectives, and knowledge that can broaden your understanding of the world,” said Casey Bozenski, a second-year IH UTHealth Houston School of Public Health student. “This is particularly true for students in the environmental and occupational health sciences programs, who enjoy learning and exploring different areas of interest for the pure sake of knowledge. Experiencing a range of areas via these trips can help to develop skills such as adaptability, problem-solving, and creativity, which will serve us well as we continue in public health. It also provides opportunities to meet new people and make connections that may be valuable in future endeavors.”

“My favorite field trip was our trip to the Dow Chemical Plant because we got to see a wide variety of different processes that occur at such a large scale,” said Catherine Turlington, a SWCOEH IH Trainee. “We were able to see their on-site physicians’ office and fitness center as well as their sensory lab and plastics research center.”

“Every site had some special features,” Patel said. “Lone Star Mushroom had a variety of mushrooms, and LyondellBassell had a huge laboratory with 52 GC units. Dow Chemical’s sensory lab tests different products according to consumer needs. A panel of experts with a fine sense of taste and odor tests the products. Anheuser Busch has a large brewing area with a huge kettle producing enormous amounts of beer daily.”

 “It has been really cool to see different fields of work I never thought I would ever get to see up close, like the mushroom farm,” Turlington said. “I am really excited to experience the National Galveston Laboratory and know we will all learn so much from this field trip. This has been one of my favorite courses throughout my time at UT Health and am so grateful for this opportunity!”

After studying safety protocols, Forse has benefited from seeing the protocols implemented in a work setting.

“I see why all the protocols are in place, especially at LyondellBasell,” Forse said. “We got to see it – these places are enormous. There are many moving parts and exposures. It is hard to keep track of everything around you, so you must have many controls to keep your workers safe.”  

“My favorite field trip was to the LyondellBassell Bayport Complex, located in Pasadena,” Bozenski said. “It employs approximately 1,175 contractors/employees, has a site footprint of 800 acres, and has an economic impact of $535 million per Fiscal Year in the local community. Their principal products and intermediaries are comprehensive, but my favorites include Ethylene Oxide and Propylene Oxide. As an Industrial Hygienist, it’s always fun to do a deep dive on chemicals, especially hazardous ones!”

“I would like to acknowledge and express my class’s gratitude to Drs. Su and Perkison for their efforts in organizing and making these field trips happen,” Bozenski said. “Their dedication to providing opportunities for students and professionals to explore various fields is commendable and greatly appreciated. IH and OM are crucial components of public health, as they focus on identifying, evaluating, and controlling environmental factors that can impact worker health and safety. These fields are critical in preventing work-related injuries, illnesses, and fatalities and ensuring that workplaces are safe and healthy for employees.”

The SWCOEH provides graduate-level training opportunities for occupational and environmental health professionals through our industrial hygiene, occupational and environmental medicine, occupational epidemiology, and Total Worker Health®.