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$8.9 Million Grant for UC Center Focused on Occupational Safety and Health


One of UC's longest-running grants has been renewed to support training and research in the fields of occupational health and safety. The ERC will receive nearly $9 million.

Date: 9/1/2017 10:00:00 AM
By: Katie Pence
Phone: 558-6052

UC ingot  
One of the university's longest-running grants has been renewed to support training and research in the fields of occupational health and safety. The University of Cincinnati (UC) Education and Research Center (ERC), housed in the Department of Environmental Health at the College of Medicine, will be awarded $1.7 million in the first year and $1.8 million annually for years two through five. 

The ERC has been continually funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Hygiene (NIOSH) since 1977. It is the longest continually funded center at UC, and the Occupational Medicine Program within the ERC is the oldest continuously operating occupational medicine residency in the U.S.

"The center's outstanding accomplishments is one of the reasons why the CDC is considering moving its new NIOSH research facility closer to the university," says Shuk-Mei Ho, PhD, Jacob G. Schmidlapp Professor and Chair of Environmental Health. "This move will greatly strengthen occupational health and medicine research in the region and around the nation as the ERC and the Department of Environmental Health have great talents and proven track records on innovation in these areas."

With the renewal, the ERC will focus on occupational safety and health of home health care workers and that growing segment of the workforce. Additionally, postdoctoral students and PhD students outside the core ERC disciplines who participate in the home health care research can be funded through the ERC. 

"In years past, the focus has been on firefighters' occupational safety, and now, the research work is shifting to the occupational safety and health around home health care workers," says Tiina Reponen, PhD, professor in the Department of Environmental Health and director of UC's ERC. "These nurses and caregivers are going to the home instead of the work they were doing in a hospital or nursing home, so we will be looking at everything that can be done to help nurses in these scenarios, from ergonomic issues, impact on their travel to and from and into homes, to indoor air quality issues within the homes."  

ERC across three colleges, five areas of study
Students in the ERC are comprised of graduate students from the colleges of medicine, nursing and engineering and applied science. About 40 students are part of the ERC at any given time. 

There are five disciplinary graduate programs within the ERC:
? Biomonitoring (MS and PhD)
? Environmental and Occupational Hygiene (MS and PhD)
? Occupational Health and Safety Engineering (MS and PhD)
? Occupational Health Nursing (MSN and PhD)
? Occupational Medical Residency (MPH)
Each program has its own curriculum with required interdisciplinary work that all students take. There are also many opportunities for fieldwork and experiential learning through field trips, observation and research, as well as symposiums and engagement with industry. 

Depending on the requirements of their program/college affiliation, students also incorporate clinical rotations, internships or research in local industries into their graduate studies.

In August, students of the ERC went to Indiana to visit Meadow Lake Wind Farm to learn about its electricity output and economic benefits to the nearby communities. They also toured Purdue University's nanotechnology center. After trips, students share their experiences on the ERC's blog

This and other interdisciplinary activities are led by Gordon Gillespie, PhD, deputy director of Occupational Health Nursing in the ERC and an associate professor at the UC College of Nursing. Gillespie says the goal of such trips is to give students exposure to occupational safety and health in a variety of public and private settings. Gillespie also teaches occupational health nursing and assists students with achieving the research aims of the grant for their translational research training.

ERC's history includes high job placement
Reponen says job placement for students from the ERC is high—nearly 100 percent—and many have a job offer before they complete the program; some even start jobs before they graduate. 

"Some of our students continue on in academic research, but they also go on to work in governmental institutes and into private industry," says Reponen. She says about 50 percent stay in the Tristate area after finishing their graduate work. 

A national needs assessment of the occupational safety and health workforce (WestStat, 2011) found that 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.
 
"Even as the ERC continues training, we still would meet only half of the industry need, particularly for industrial hygiene professionals as well as in nursing occupations," notes Reponen.
 
NIOSH currently funds 18 university-based Education and Research Centers; University of Cincinnati is the only one in Ohio, and was one of the first established ERCs in the country. 

To learn more about the ERC, there are events and symposiums open to the public such as the fall pilot research symposium Oct 13-14, showcasing occupational health and safety research.