Millersville University Students Support NIOSH Research

Posted on by Emily Rae Seiler, Samuel Welk, and Sydney Webb, PhD


Two students from Millersville University in Pennsylvania, Emily Rae Seiler and Samuel Welk, recently completed virtual internships with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s Division of Safety Research and Division of Science Integration. Building on their coursework in an Occupational Safety and Environmental Health class, the students supported NIOSH research endeavors while working on real-life safety and health issues. Summaries of the student projects follow.


Opioid Use and Drug Overdose Deaths in the Transportation, Warehousing, and Utilities Sector

Emily Rae Seiler | NIOSH Project Mentors: Hope Tiesman and Sydney Webb

According  to a 2019 study, drug overdose deaths at work are on the rise. From 2011 to 2016, workplace overdose deaths increased by 24%. The industry with the highest number of overdose deaths was the Transportation, Warehousing, and Utilities (TWU) sector, with 116 deadly workplace overdoses from 2011-2016. Intern Emily Rae Seiler conducted a literature review to better understand the factors contributing to this increase. While the original scope was solely on opioid use and overdose deaths, additional concerns became apparent over the course of the review, and the project expanded to include alcohol abuse, motivations for drug use, and monitoring of additional drug categories such as stimulants. After identifying relevant databases and search terms, the overall goal of the research and literature review was to compile information about drug and alcohol-related deaths at work in two specific TWU subsectors: Air Transportation and Truck Transportation.

Results from the literature review revealed many potential risk factors contributing to workplace drug and alcohol misuse within trucking and aviation, including but not limited to:

  • Ease of access to drugs or alcohol
  • Peer pressure or usage
  • Fatigue
  • Boredom
  • Job pressures and expectations
  • Long or irregular hours

Ms. Seiler created a collection of references and a summary of resources that discussed trucking, aviation, and drug use. Using this information, NIOSH researchers can now investigate and develop tools that workers in this industry can use to reduce the risks of workplace drug and alcohol misuse and opioid overdoses.


Emily Seiler | NIOSH Project Mentors: Laura Hodson and Adrienne Eastlake

Biomanufacturing is a type of manufacturing that uses biological systems to produce biomolecules for use in a variety of industries, including food manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, and energy. As biomanufacturing continues to expand, the process of scaling up biological techniques from laboratory-level to large-scale manufacturing reveals unique challenges in occupational safety that may not otherwise appear in a traditional manufacturing setting. To best protect workers in the emerging biomanufacturing industry, a thorough understanding of the risks is necessary. As a result, this internship required evaluating the current risk control measures and identifying any gaps or recommendations to protect biomanufacturing workers. Ms. Seiler conducted a review of biomanufacturing, biosafety, and synthetic biology literature which revealed potential risks in the biomanufacturing industry. Some of the biomanufacturing risks may not be as prevalent in traditional manufacturing including exposure to biological hazards, such as biologically-derived toxins, prions, and laboratory acquired infections, biosecurity, bioterrorism, cryogens, UV radiation, and autoclaves.

Additional topics covered in the research include risk assessments, health surveillance, biosafety, and prevention through design, as well as a review of current government regulation that relates to biomanufacturing. The final product from this internship experience was an aggregate of information on biomanufacturing that can be used as a starting point for future research on this rapidly growing industry.

Applying Plain Language to Firefighter Fatality Recommendations

Samuel Welk | NIOSH Project Mentors: Sydney Webb and Suzanne Marsh

Firefighting remains one of the most hazardous occupations in the nation. NIOSH works to reduce the number of firefighter fatalities by investigating and publishing line-of-duty death reports that underscore key recommendations to prevent similar deaths. Report recommendations are written by various investigators. These recommendations often have similar meanings but are drafted in various writing styles and stated somewhat differently by each investigator. To address this issue, intern Samuel Welk developed a repository of consistently crafted recommendations written in plain language. Plain Language is writing designed to ensure a reader can easily understand and act on information. For example, using short sentences that include everyday words and limited jargon.

To build the repository, Mr. Welk reviewed published firefighter fatality reports from the years 2015 to 2020 and compiled a list of all recommendations from these reports. All recommendations with similar meanings were grouped together. Then, new recommendations were written in plain language to ensure that all levels within the fire service, from a recruit to a chief officer can easily understand the recommendations.

Butane Honey Oil Manufacturing and its Implications to the Fire Service

Samuel Welk | NIOSH Project Mentors: Jeff Funke, Matt Bowyer, and Murrey Loflin

Marijuana is quickly becoming legal across the nation. With legalization comes a demand for processed marijuana. Processing marijuana for sale involves a number of varying steps. Typically legal commercial operations use odorless liquified petroleum gas (LPG) and illegal operations use canisters of butane to process marijuana.. The final product is referred to as butane honey oil. Legal operations do pose some hazards to firefighters due to the equipment used; however, illegal operations rarely meet any safety guidelines and pose an extreme danger to firefighters. In May, a structural fire at an illegal marijuana processing facility occurred in Los Angeles and resulted in 12 firefighter injuries. This incident sparked interest in learning more about the extent of these marijuana processing operations along with their impacts on firefighter and first responder safety.

As part of his internship, Mr. Welk conducted a literature review that examined:

  • Where marijuana processing is allowed in the United States,
  • How marijuana is processed and the associated hazards,
  • Existing building codes for marijuana processing facilities,
  • Regulations regarding marijuana processing,
  • NFPA guidance on marijuana processing hazards, and
  • Recommendations for firefighters responding to incidents at these facilities.

The literature review revealed that only eight states allow butane honey oil processing, while countless illegal marijuana processing operations are occurring nationwide. Illegal operations prove to be extremely hazardous as they do not follow any safety guidelines or standards. These homegrown operations pose a danger to firefighters due to the fact they are not reported, inspected, and use equipment and techniques that are dangerous. The literature review also included recommendations for fire service strategy and tactics when responding to incidents at marijuana processing facilities and the need to raise firefighter awareness about the warning signs and dangers of these types of operations.

Both interns found the experience rewarding. According to Mr. Welk, a volunteer firefighter himself, “The most gratifying aspect of this internship was the ability to merge my fondness for the fire service with my knowledge of safety. Additionally, this experience allowed me to obtain valuable information and training on how people perceive messages, including how to tailor those messages to make them transparent to their intended audiences.”

Ms. Seiler shared her sentiments about the internship experience, “NIOSH gave me the chance to gain real-world research experience and helped me build on the skills I’d been developing in college. It was great having the opportunity to work alongside researchers as peers and contribute to growing fields of study. This was a great experience that I would recommend to any budding researcher.”

NIOSH is interested in your experience. How has your organization worked with students and universities to participate in occupational safety and health? These internships were conducted virtually. Please share your experiences with virtual student internships. Any lessons learned may help others as they work to offer student experiences during this unprecedented time.


Emily Rae Seiler, Millersville University 2020 Graduate

Samuel Welk, Millersville University 2020 Graduate

Sydney Webb, PhD, Health Communication Specialist, NIOSH



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Posted on by Emily Rae Seiler, Samuel Welk, and Sydney Webb, PhD

4 comments on “Millersville University Students Support NIOSH Research”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    Great job, interns! As a health literacy and plain language advocate, I particularly applaud Mr. Welk’s work on applying plain language to firefighter fatality recommendations. What was the stimulus for undertaking this project? For example, were you hearing that recruits couldn’t understand the reports?

    Now that Mr. Welk has developed a repository of consistently crafted recommendations written in plain language, are the NIOSH investigators using the recommended language, or are they defaulting to their individual writing styles? If they are using the recommended language, did you experience any challenges in getting the investigators’ acceptance, and how did you overcome those challenges?

    Thank you for your comment. Since some recommendations apply to many firefighter line of duty deaths we wanted to have a consistent repository of recommendations. We recognized the importance of plain language and used it as an opportunity to apply plain language best practices to ensure we reach all members of the fire service. We did need to strike a balance between plain language and standard, universal firefighter terms. In the upcoming months we will be working with NIOSH investigators on how to best incorporate the repository of recommendations into their investigative reports.

    Great job. I really applaud NIOSH for going through with the virtual internship. Sounds like it was a productive experience both parties. I hope more virtual internships continue in 2021.

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Page last reviewed: August 17, 2022
Page last updated: August 17, 2022