News Archives


Summer 2010 Stories:

Worker Leaders Train Peers in Occupational

Health and Safety


Over the last two years, UIC researchers have been working with day laborers in Chicago, Milwaukee, Memphis and Cincinnati to expand training in health and safety. During the next two years, “worker leaders” (peer health educators) will continue to train day laborers in other US regions.


Worker Centers throughout the Chicago area have long been an important gathering place for both immigrant and native-born worker leaders. In addition to providing education and advocacy, centers such as ARISE Chicago and Latino Union have evolved into communities of workers interested in protecting their rights, including health and safety.

In 2008, the Division Director of the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, received funding to collaborate with Worker Centers and provide training to day laborers in health and safety. First Dr. Rosemary Sokas—now the Medical Director of OSHA in Washington, D.C.—led this project. It is currently being headed by Dr. Linda Forst. The three-year grant was awarded by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.

During the last two years about 180 workers have been trained by 16 peer trainers. The training is based on the OSHA 10 hour course in health and safety for construction workers, and adds a section on “job fear”—how to approach your supervisor when you are asked to do work that is not safe.  The research team expects that an additional nine trainers and 270 workers will be trained in the next year.

“I think it’s a really great example of the way that real needs can be coupled with research and practice to work towards very specific goals,” co-investigator Dr. Emily Ahonen says about the project.

“People are very enthusiastic,” she says, with good reason. Day laborers often work in construction or other industries where severe and fatal injuries are common and personal protective equipment is scarce.

With training expanding to other areas of the country, worker leaders who were part of the core group in Chicago have participated in training workers at other centers. Ahonen noted that workers really appreciated the opportunity to discuss similar challenges and successes with their peers from other cities.

UIC students, many of whom will be able to use this data for their thesis or dissertation, also have been involved with the project. According to Leslie Nickels, Continuing Education and Outreach Director of the Illinois Education and Research Center, “an outreach project like this one is great for students to explore the implementation side of research and begin to work with community-based organizations.”


Training program developed by Illinois

ERC reaches workers in South Africa


During the last few months, hundreds of South African workers have learned about the fundamentals of occupational health in a training program taught by ERC faculty members from UIC. The project began 10 years ago, when the ERC committed to working with the World Health Organization to address the 10-15 percent of workers worldwide who don’t have access to health and safety training.


In September 2009, Johannesburg, South Africa was bustling with activity in preparation for the World Cup, which is now underway. Johannesburg is the focus of worldwide attention from soccer fans, but once the tournament is over, it will still be a place that represents the prospect of work for people all over Africa. Because of this, it made perfect sense for the National Institute for Occupational Health to host its first of many courses on occupational health and safety in Johannesburg last September.

Almost 100 participants attended the course. They were from all over South Africa as well as a few other African countries. They were physicians, nurses, health and safety professionals, and public service employees. For many, this would be their first experience discussing safety in the work place. After attending the five-day course, they were charged with making improvements to their own work place, and training other employees of their organizations on the same principles.

Lorraine Conroy (ScD, CIH), Leslie Nickels (MEd), and Preethi Pratrap (PhD) of the University of Illinois at Chicago developed and taught the course. Their goal was to teach workers how to recognize and control hazards in their workplaces, reducing injuries and illnesses.

Since the initial course in 2009, the National Health Laboratory Services Head of Analytical Services, Ina Naik, has helped facilitate ten trainings, with additional courses planned for this summer. The courses are taught by workers trained in the first course, with support from faculty at UIC. This format, called “train-the-trainer,” helps spread information widely throughout South Africa, as participants learn from their peers and then teach others.

The Illinois ERC also provides health and safety information through its Global Environmental and Occupational Library ( The GeoLibrary is a database of training materials, ranging from full curricula to fact sheets, on a wide variety of issues. It’s completely online, searchable, and free. The database is available in English, Spanish, French, Chinese and Arabic and has contributors all over the world.

After the course in South Africa, many participants felt that they had the tools to positively affect their work environments. One participant said, “I will be able to go into the industry and help make work places safer to work in.”

“That reaction was well worth the 17-hour flight,” said Conroy.


How healthy is “green” housing?


In the first project of its kind in the U.S., UIC researchers will study the connection between “green” certified Chicago Housing Authority developments and the health of residents.


From President Obama’s “Cash for Caulkers” program to rooftop gardens and solar panels, there continues to be a commitment by the government to “green.”

But how healthy is green living for residents? This is the question UIC researchers and their partners are trying to answer by surveying residents of green-certified low-income units about their health. Additional information will be collected through visual inspections, air samples, and Medicaid data.

The effort is led by David Jacobs, director of research for the National Center for Healthy Housing. Other partners include faculty and students from UIC's Division of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences and College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, and the Center for Neighborhood Technology. The project, which will continue through 2012, will employ housing residents and UIC students to conduct fieldwork.

The Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation—the decade-long initiative to improve public housing in Chicago—includes addressing green technology in housing. According to the CHA's Annual Report, “green technology conserves energy through alternative or renewable energy sources and by using resource-efficient building materials.” Other efforts include focusing on occupant wellness by controlling moisture to prevent mold and other allergens and providing adequate ventilation to reduce dust.

Residents who will be interviewed must have lived in public housing for three years prior to living in the new developments. Researchers will compare residents’ previous and future Medicaid data to assess changes in Medicaid expenditures related to respiratory, cardiovascular, neurological, physical or mental health.

Project managers expect 400 participants to enroll. They are hoping to see an improvement in housing-related health outcomes and an overall decrease in Medicaid expenditures for residents. Findings from this project will likely help inform the national debate on green and healthy housing.


Students receive practical training in

hazardous waste management and

emergency response


As part of the Industrial Hygiene curriculum at the Illinois ERC, students participate in hands-on courses to supplement their classroom training.


In early May, five students in the Illinois ERC’s Hazardous Substances Academic Training program could be seen setting up a decontamination area in the Palos Hills Fire Department parking lot and learning how to contain a hazardous leak or spill. The exercise was part of a week-long course known as HAZWOPER training. The Hazardous Waste Operator and Emergency Response Standard requires that employers and employees involved in hazardous waste clean-up activities follow specific safety procedures. The goal of the course is to teach individuals who might be exposed to a chemical hazard during an emergency response how to identify and control hazards, as well as how to protect themselves.

The Continuing Education program at the Illinois ERC provides annual HAZWOPER training to a variety of public sector professionals, including those from local health departments and emergency services.

Brennan Pierce, a student at the Illinois ERC who attended the course, said this training complemented her courses over the year well. “Because of my coursework, I felt like I knew much more about the topics than others at the training session, and was able to contribute more and obtain a greater understanding of the topics discussed. During the training, I was able to relate the information being taught to many of my classroom experiences and consider how I could apply each lesson in a professional setting.” View pictures from the course here.

In another course taking place during the same week, seven Occupational Safety and Industrial Hygiene students participated in an Emergency First Responder class, administered by the American Red Cross. Because these students are training to monitor and implement health and safety programs, it’s important that they go through training in emergency medical response so they can be helpful during an emergency situation at a workplace.

Students were taught how to dress a wound, immobilize a bone, assess spinal injuries and transport spinal injury victims, perform CPR and administer epinephrine and oxygen. Most of the course was carried out through simulations, giving students the opportunity to apply their knowledge. Tom Vroman, an Industrial Hygiene student, said the class will serve him well. “We know that when a worker is exposed to a chemical and has a negative respiratory reaction, the first step is to get the worker out of the area and then administer oxygen. Now that I’m certified to do that I can be effective immediately.”


Questions or comments about any of these projects? Email us.

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