Reflecting on the NIOSH Education and Research Centers’ Continuing Education and Outreach

Posted on by Donjanea F. Williams, EdD; Julie Tisdale-Pardi, MA; Elizabeth H. Maples, PhD, CIH; and John Staley, PhD.

In recognition of the 45th anniversary of the Education and Research Centers (ERCs), we reflect on the Centers’ four decades as a NIOSH-funded grantee. This blog, which is the last in a 3-part series on the ERCs, focuses on the Centers’ effectiveness in serving as a resource to our nation’s workforce through continuing education and outreach. We encourage you to also check out the previous two blogs on ERC training and research.


Continuing education and outreach are a core part of the NIOSH-supported grant funding awarded to the 18 ERCs. These Centers address U.S. occupational safety and health (OSH) burden through interdisciplinary training for the next generation of OSH practitioners and researchers. Through effective continuing education and outreach, the ERCs aim to translate scientific discoveries into practice to improve workplace safety and health.

NIOSH ERCs train thousands of OSH professionals annually around the United States through course offerings in the OSH core and related disciplines. Between 2005 and 2020, the ERCs provided more than 3.8-million hours of training to more than 785,500 occupational safety and health professionals through more than 23,500 courses. The following table shows the continuing education activity by discipline.

Table. Continuing education courses by discipline, 2005-2020

Discipline Number of Courses Number of Trainees Person-Hours of Training
Industrial Hygiene 2,983 76,543 544,924
Occupational Health Nursing 2,925 98,473 458,301
Occupational Medicine 2,762 127,093 377,055
Occupational Safety 10,233 222,148 1,604,718
Ag Safety and Health 374 14,287 35,096
Other 4,228 247,045 852,694
Total 23,505 785,589 3,872,788


Additionally, four ERCs offer graduate certificate programs to both degree seeking students and working professionals:

Beyond continuing education, the ERCs offer other outreach activities to increase awareness of work-related safety and health issues and translate science into practice. ERC outreach includes activities with businesses, community groups, worker advocacy groups, local, state, and federal agencies, or other institutions within their respective regions that implement innovative strategies to meet needs in awareness and positively impact worker health, safety, and well-being. Examples of successful ERC outreach projects are highlighted below.

Highlights: ERC Education and Outreach

Deep South ERC at the University of Alabama at Birmingham

In 2008, the Deep South ERC developed an innovative program called Environmental Occupational Safety and Health Institute (EOSH). Thirteen years later, 120 undergraduate “Summer Scholars” from various universities and institutions have been a part of the program. The purpose is to provide an introduction and encourage these scholars to explore the Deep South Center’s academic programs. Nearly 30%of the participants in the Summer Institute seek graduate degrees in OSH.

During the height of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the Alabama Nursing Home Association engaged the ERC to provide six-hour respiratory fit testing workshops across the state. The training was devoted to train participants to become competent fit testers. Instructors trained 377 ANHA employees through 25 courses, ensuring safety of residents and healthcare workers throughout Alabama.

Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at University of California, Berkeley

The ERC is a consortium of programs of the University of California. Through the Continuing Education Program and the Outreach components of the Labor Occupational Health Program, the ERC provides continuing education courses and outreach activities to health professionals. The Center aims to provide an educational bridge from the University to external constituencies to ensure that practicing professionals, workers, their representatives, supervisors, and other educators benefit from the University’s occupational health and safety expertise. The ERC strives to integrate an occupational safety and health perspective in all its activities.

Southern California ERC at the University of California, Los Angeles

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) agency is the largest leading public transportation company nationwide, commissioning over 18,000 employees. Through their partnership with the UCLA Southern California Education & Research Center (SCERC), members of senior management participated in several courses in occupational health and safety. Senior management utilized the knowledge and training from these courses to implement formal robust programs in Indoor Air Quality, Heat Illness Prevention and Hazardous Materials Emergency Response. Additionally, they have developed safety procedures and systems designed to recognize, evaluate, control and monitor occupational health and safety concerns from their operations and processes. As a result of the knowledge gained from the UCLA-SCERC courses, Metro is leading occupational health and safety in public transportation.

University of Cincinnati ERC

The UC ERC uses CERKL (a social media mechanism) to reach over 900 partners and collaborators with routine messages about meetings, job opening, research outcomes, and general ERC activities. The number of partners continues to grow and includes regional health and safety professionals, alumni, and NIOSH researchers. For over 10 years, the ERC has worked with the Cincinnati Interfaith Center through delivery of health and safety training, and evaluation of current safety needs. For more info click here.

Mountain & Plains ERC at the University of Colorado, Denver

As the pandemic evolved, it became increasingly clear that important issues such as health care worker burn-out, use of masks or barrier facial coverings, and implementation of vaccine requirements presented moral and ethical issues for workers and employers managing occupational health and safety. In day-to-day conversations with professionals and employers, Center staff saw that these decision makers desired a deeper understanding of the ethical constructs and legal reasoning for their leadership choices. The Center established a partnership with the University of Colorado Center for Bioethics and Humanities to develop a webinar series to address the complex issues around ethics and occupational health specifically as it relates to COVID-19. This webinar series, “Work and Play in a Pandemic: Ethics and Occupational Health,” included; Rights of Vulnerable Workers, Collegiate Athletes, Justice, and COVID-19; Election Day is Over: What’s Next for Worker Health and Safety; Should Employers Require the COVID-19 Vaccine; and Moral Integrity and the COVID-19 Response Workforce. Panelists for these webinars included leading academic researchers, union representatives, physicians, professional athletes, and the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Labor. The series is ongoing, with quarterly webinars that address a number of topics, both COVID-19 related and broader occupational ethical challenges. To date, over 1,500 individuals have attended webinars in this series.

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health ERC

Community Health Workers (CHWs) are frontline, community-based, public health professionals who serve as liaisons between their respective employers and those who need health services. They are employed by many different types of organizations and the roles of CHWs vary greatly across the employer spectrum. CHW certification varies across states and only 21 states have a current certification program.  Research from the Harvard ERC showed that these certification programs do not include content around occupational safety and health, and yet the potential hazards that CHWs face include the full spectrum of biological, chemical, physical, and psycho-social exposures.

The Harvard Outreach Program, in collaboration with a CIH recently retired from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Occupational Health Surveillance Program (NIOSH-funded state surveillance program) and a safety advocate from the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, now offers a context-based 16-hour course on occupational safety and health for CHWs. This course is customized to the roles and context of the CHWs being trained and includes interactive presentations on hazards and their health impacts, mitigation, workplace discrimination, workers’ rights, workers’ compensation, whistleblower protection, etc.  Recent and upcoming clients include CHWs in the Manchester, New Hampshire, Department of Health and Police Department, and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.

Great Lakes Center for Occupational Health and Safety (GLC-OHS) at the University of Illinois Chicago 

Worker centers provide services and advocacy for low-wage workers and a way for investigators to reach them. The “More Than Training” project leveraged national worker center resources to test a train-the-trainer program for worker centers, their members and allies which worker center members who were workers themselves were trained to teach the OSHA 10-hour class. The project reached 500 workers who received 10-hour training cards from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The sessions were held in Spanish with Spanish speaking peer educators and authorized OSHA trainers. In three years, the project expanded from two Chicago centers to centers in the Mid-West and Southwest. ERC outreach and continuing education staff served on the board of directors of the centers and as consultants for various research projects and initiatives including workplace sexual violence prevention and policy and collaborative training for domestic workers, including pilot project research funding for a survey of Chinese-speaking homecare workers. Owing to relationships and positive outcomes of capacity building, worker centers have engaged in projects with the Center for Healthy Work research to understand and address the needs of workers experiencing precarious employment. The GLC-OHS ERC and the Center for Healthy Work in Chicago supported essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic by using cooperative relationships to create training and response. For more information click here.

University of Iowa Heartland Center for Occupational Safety and Health

The Heartland Center for Occupational Health and Safety trains future workplace health professionals and provides continuing education and outreach for current practitioners throughout Iowa and its neighboring states. The Heartland Center Outreach program holds the largest safety conference in Iowa, Hawkeye on Safety, with over 400 participants and covering a wide range of topics including jobsite hazard analysis, suicide prevention, building a safety culture, and confined space rescue among others. The Outreach program has also developed partners with professional organizations in Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas to provide safety education across the region. Information on current and upcoming safety trends, regulation changes, educational events, and Center updates are disseminated in a quarterly occupational safety and health newsletter available here that reaches thousands of workers. The Heartland Center has also partnered with outreach programs associated with the Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health, which is a Center for Agricultural Safety and Health that conducts research and provides educational resources and other outreach to improve farmers’ understanding of farm vehicle safety. The Heartland Center also partners with the Healthier Workforce Center of the Midwest, a NIOSH-supported Center of Excellence for Total Worker Health® that conducts research and outreach to address worker well-being. For more information on the collective outreach efforts of the three centers click here.

Johns Hopkins ERC

The Johns Hopkins ERC is collaborating with the Johns Hopkins Psychosocial, Organizational, and Environmental Total Worker Health Center® in Mental Health to hold a summit on mental health in the workplace on October 6 – 7, 2022 at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. This is a regional summit oriented to local stakeholders and will focus on workplace culture, peer support, communication about mental health, and burnout, among other topics. The Center welcomes those interested in workforce mental health to join.  For more information click here. This summit is immediately preceding the NIOSH 3rd International Symposium to Advance Total Worker Health® titled “Shaping work now and in the future” to be held October 11-14, 2022, at the National Institutes of Health, Natcher Conference Center, Bethesda, Maryland, USA.

ERC personnel are also working with faculty at University of Maryland Baltimore on a project titled “Online Training in Motivational Interviewing for Occupational Health Providers to Address Vaccine Hesitancy Among Employees”. The ERC is connecting the researchers with practitioners in the OSH community and providing outreach support to the project.

The Central Appalachian Regional ERC (CARERC) at the University of Kentucky

CARERC implements a unique approach that combines outreach with the educational training program contacts and field activities at various area industries. The Occupational Health Field Surveys course (CPH 698) provides students with onsite, direct experience recognizing hazards and evaluating control measures to reduce occupational health and safety risks. This is a cross-disciplinary course for graduate students in occupational safety, industrial hygiene, environmental health, occupational health nursing, ergonomics, injury prevention, agricultural health and safety, occupational epidemiology and occupational medicine. Worksites visited through the course include underground and surface coal mines, rock quarries, oil refineries, chemical plants, asphalt paving and roadway construction, sawmills, timber harvesting, truck and rail terminals, automobile manufacturing, food production, cattle, poultry, and grain farms, small manufacturing companies, hospitals, and law enforcement investigation sites.  While on pre-site visits students provide outreach on occupational health and injury prevention events and services provided by CARERC.

University of Michigan Center for Occupational Health and Safety Engineering (COHSE) 

Small and medium sized firms often rely on external resources to assist them with ergonomics training, program design, and job analysis. A program from the University of Michigan Center for Ergonomics (part of the COHSE) is available to six small or medium sized companies within the state of Michigan. COHSE staff will develop customized on-site introductory ergonomics training seminars that will provide introductory ergonomics information and workplace examples to illustrate ergonomic risk factors and job design principles. In addition, limited follow-up activities will be conducted with the six participating companies to document the integration of ergonomics within the company and workplace changes. These activities provide an excellent opportunity for Michigan companies to initiate or expand their ergonomics activities. For more information click here.

The Midwest Center for Occupational Health and Safety at University of Minnesota

Through the Midwest Center’s Outreach Program, student researchers have been collaborating with community partners to address emerging issues and ongoing needs. Two surveys conducted with the Minnesota Occupational Nursing Association assess the impact of COVID-19 on Occupational Health Nurses’ health and well-being during this persisting pandemic. Work continues to identify critical resource needs and how employers can be better positioned to advance whole person health among their employees.

Researchers engaged veterinary technicians at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center and Veterinary Clinical Investigation Center to assess the potential for dermal exposure to two chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer, the leading cause of death in dogs. Exposure assessment results were used to develop recommendations for appropriate personal protective equipment and hazard communication training.

ERC research with local law enforcement agencies indicated that work-related stress is impacting the quality of health, safety, and wellbeing of police and sheriff following the murder of George Floyd and the COVID-19 pandemic. Findings from this study will also inform two local law enforcement agencies about what departmental stress-reducing resources are currently being used, who uses these services and resources, and barriers and facilitators to their use.

New York/New Jersey ERC

A goal of the NYNJERC Outreach Program is to create an awareness of the field of occupational safety and health, and to introduce undergraduate students to OSH careers. For many years, the NYNJERC has worked with several universities to include occupational safety and health lectures within their undergraduate public health curriculum. Dr. Mitchel Rosen has integrated OSH lectures in several courses at Rutgers University, including Introduction to Public Health, Environmental Public Health, and Emergency Preparedness. Additionally, he successfully integrated OSH lectures in the public health curriculum at The College of New Jersey and William Paterson University. Dr. Rosen has introduced OSH to approximately 1,000 undergraduate students through this outreach over the previous five years.

This outreach activity has led several students to pursue a career in occupational safety and health. One example is from a class a few years ago. A student asked her father, who was a roofer, about safety procedures they use at work. The father said that because he had to do a roof in a day, they were not able to use safety equipment. Two days later, her uncle fell from a roof and was left paralyzed. She was deeply affected and will pursue a career in occupational health and safety.

The North Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Education and Research Center (NC OSHERC) at the University of North Carolina, Gillings School of Global Public Health  

The Center’s PROSPER (Promoting Safe Practices for Employee Return) outreach project assisted several small-to medium-sized businesses in North Carolina during the COVID-19 pandemic, including providing guidance and technical assistance from their interdisciplinary team of experts in industrial hygiene, occupational safety and health, and health education/health promotion. The team used a Total Worker Health (TWH) approach for providing technical assistance, helping businesses develop specific policies, programs, and practices that integrate protection from work-related safety and health hazards with promotion of injury and illness prevention efforts to advance worker well-being. For more information click here.

 Sunshine ERC at the University of South Florida  

The Sunshine ERC helped create the Southeast Regional Research Symposium, a collaboration between the NIOSH ERCs and the Centers for Agricultural Safety and Health (Ag Centers) in Kentucky, Florida, North Carolina and Alabama. Together with the Southeastern States Occupational Health Network (SouthON) meeting, researchers from across the region gather to share results, spark ideas, and encourage collaboration. In 2021, NIOSH supported centers invested in a website domain and platform to hold the conference annually. Attendees who may not have been able to travel to a traditional event were able to participate in the virtual poster session, panels, and presentations. University of South Florida researcher highlights include a study looking into Hurricane Shelters and COVID-19 and the Protection of Workers’ Emotional Well-Being.  For more information click here.

The Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (SWCOEH) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

The Center provided COVID-19 response and resources on their COVID-19 bilingual English and Spanish website. Since March 2020, faculty, staff, and students have provided near 6,600 hours of COVID-19 outreach and training to a professionals and organizations across Federal Public Health Region 6 and the U.S, on keeping workers and customers safe, returning to work, or use of personal protective equipment. The Center also provided numerous consultations to work organizations and news interviews.

The Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational & Environmental Health at the University of Utah

The Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (RMCOEH) has further strengthened its outreach with the State of Utah and Health and Human Services (HHS) Region 8 by securing $2 million in legislative appropriations, a funding stream which is ongoing beginning in 2022. This funding is being built on last year’s statutory establishment of a 2-university partnership with the first “multi-university program” in the Utah code. The University of Utah and Weber State University now jointly run the RMCOEH and there is added dedication to further growing robust training programs and broadening the reach to potential trainees and private companies across the region.  Along with this new partnership comes a new, state of the art facility in the heart of Salt Lake City. RMCOEH’s facility includes all components needed for comprehensive education, training, and research. It includes classrooms, labs, and even exam rooms for hands on training. This expansion was made possible by partnerships between the Center and its partners who are critical to RMCOEH’s growth.

The Northwest Center for Occupational Health and Safety (NWCOHS) at the University of Washington 

Racism in our society is a cause of the hazardous occupational conditions and disproportionate burden of poor health experienced among Black workers, other workers of other racial and ethnic minority groups, and their communities. In the summer of 2020, the Center formed a work group of faculty, staff and trainees to develop a series of anti-racism learning activities for the 2020-2021 academic year (more detail in the ERC Training blog). In spring of 2021 the Center hosted a panel discussion with representatives from Washington’s agriculture and farmworker populations from the Community for the Advancement of Family Education Wenatchee and El Proyecto Bienestar and Radio KDNA.  Trainees, staff, and faculty also attended the 2021 Worker Memorial Day event, which focused on anti-racism. The year of learning concluded with another panel discussion with occupational health and safety professionals about how they engage with anti-racism within their workplaces and our responsibilities as worker health advocates. The work group is discussing how to use these experiences to design goals for the future.

Future Directions: New Decade and New Funding

Moving forward, NIOSH aims for the ERCs to further enhance diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the safety and health workforce through training, research training, continuing education, and outreach. These efforts complement NIOSH’s own DEI initiative, which started In June 2019, designed to help the institute take substantive action to create greater DEI in its workforce, the workplace and in its service to the public.

Over the next few years, the ERCs will further demonstrate a commitment to DEI in all aspects of their Centers, including their core values, mission, and outputs. The Centers will increase strong partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, along with Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Asian American and Pacific Islander Serving Institutions. These collaborations are expected to serve as potential pipelines for graduate and post-graduate students from racial and ethnic minority groups to become ERC trainees, and provide opportunities for collaboration in research training, continuing education, and outreach. The ERCs will focus on DEI in student recruitment and retention, faculty hiring and retention, academic and research training content and focus areas, outreach, and continuing education.

ERCs are also focusing on other aspects related to the rapidly changing workplace, work, and workforce. They will move towards an expanded focus for OSH — a framework developed by NIOSH and the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health ERC. Last year, a 3-day conference was held to provide more information on this new paradigm shift. The framework marks a critical change towards a more expansive, systems-thinking approach related to work to better integrate traditional OSH, personal and socioeconomic risk factors. This expanded focus will change OSH research and training for the future workforce, as well as create forward-thinking policies to enhance worker health, safety, and well-being.

However, while we look to the future, we also acknowledge the successes and accomplishments of the ERCs and their four-decade history of taking innovative approaches in outreach and pivoting to meet the many demands and needs in occupational safety and health. Historically, ERCs have provided expertise in worker health and safety following events such as hurricanes (Katrina, Maria, and Harvey), the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, illicit drug exposures to law enforcement and emergency medical services, and Ebola and influenza outbreaks.

The ERCs provided far-reaching outreach and continuing education activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their activities were broad in scope and included communication products, resource guides, online courses, and webinars on safe work practices during the pandemic and return to work.

If you would like to reflect on the ERCs and their influence on worker safety, health, and well-being, please comment below and share your thoughts.

Donjanea F. Williams, EdD, is a former Health Communication Specialist in the NIOSH Office of Extramural Programs.

Julie Tisdale-Pardi, MA, is the NIOSH Science Blog Coordinator.

Elizabeth H. Maples, PhD, CIH is a Scientific Program Official in the NIOSH Office of Extramural Programs.

John Staley, PhD, is Deputy Director of NC OSHERC, and Co-Director of the Outreach Core for the Carolina Center for Health Work Design and Worker Well-being. 

This blog is part of a series for the 45th anniversary of the ERC program. See blogs on ERC training, ERC research, and the ERC webinar series.

Posted on by Donjanea F. Williams, EdD; Julie Tisdale-Pardi, MA; Elizabeth H. Maples, PhD, CIH; and John Staley, PhD.

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Page last reviewed: September 27, 2022
Page last updated: September 27, 2022