Occupational Health Internship Project (OHIP)
Gain Hands-On Experience with Workplace Safety and Health Issues!
Summer Internship Opportunity: June 18 - August 15, 2012
Each summer LOSH offers four to six occupational health and safety internships to students committed to working in partnership with workers and their organizations for social justice. Student interns spend eight weeks working and learning about the field of occupational health and safety through an experiential process involving worker interviews, worksite tours, and team research. Research projects range from an examination of musculoskeletal disorders among hotel and garment workers to injuries, chemical, and heat exposure facing day laborers in the construction industry. Teams produce a final report to share with workers and other student teams. Commitment is full time for eight weeks with possible evening or weekend meetings, depending on the project.
2011 Southern California Interns and Their Projects
Health and Safety Concerns in the Warehouse Industry
This project focused on the health and safety hazards of warehouse workers in the Inland Empire area of Southern California, which is home to one of the largest concentration of warehouse facilities in the world. Workers in this industry face many work-related dangers, including loading and unloading of large containers; use of conveyor belts; packaging, wrapping, and labeling; and operating heavy machinery such as forklifts and pallet jacks. Interns Kimberly Aguirre and Karla Dominguez worked with Warehouse Workers United (WWU), a worker center providing advocacy and support to workers and their families. Kimberly and Karla contributed to the organization’s summer campaign by analyzing needs assessment data examining workers’ health and safety concerns. They also contributed to a white paper on the warehouse industry and helped to gather information that was later used by WWU to file a Cal/OSHA complaint against a local employer.
Occupational Hazards of Waste Recycling Workers
The goal of this project was to gather information on the health and safety concerns of workers in the waste and recycling industry in Los Angeles. Interns Kareen Espino and Ashley Kissinger worked with the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy’s (LAANE) “Don’t Waste L.A.” campaign to document occupational safety and health hazards of waste sorters in the San Fernando Valley. Specifically, they conducted qualitative, in-depth interviews with workers recruited through local day labor centers to ascertain common health risks and labor issues of undocumented, non-unionized waste sorters at waste and recycling facilities. The interviewees all reported similar health and labor concerns despite working at different facilities. Health risks included dust, noise and smell, exposure to hazardous materials, physical injuries and stress. In addition, workers reported inadequate personal protective equipment, no paid overtime or benefits, lack of training, and fear of retaliation from supervisors.
Chemical Exposures in Black Hair Salons
Hair products used by African-American women are rich in chemicals suspected to have detrimental impacts on reproductive health. Chemicals in these products have been linked to higher rates of miscarriages, still births, infertility, and low birth weight, and may contribute to infant death. Interns Asha Bell and Tyler Brewington worked with Black Women for Wellness (BWW) in South Los Angeles to document hair salon workers’ exposure to these chemicals. They conducted surveys with hair stylists to document health problems and availability of information about the contents of hair styling products. Their surveys and interviews revealed that stylists have little access to information about product toxicity, in part due to limited scientific data. The interns’ project contributed to BBW’s healthy hair initiative.
Injuries among Grocery Store Workers
The grocery and retail industry is one of the largest in the United States, employing more than 2.5 million workers. These workers face many physically demanding tasks—repetitive movements, heavy lifting, fast pace of work—which can lead to musculoskeletal disorders. Interns Aditi Ananth and Gaspar Rivera worked with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) to investigate the physical hazards of workers at Fresh & Easy grocery stores in Southern California. They conducted surveys with workers to identify work practices that contribute to injury rates. They also compared their findings on the Fresh & Easy work environment with worker data from unionized retail chains. In addition to physically demanding tasks, workers also expressed concerns about overwork and understaffing in their workplaces as well as lack of training and personal protective equipment. The findings from this project helped support the union’s larger organizing campaigns in the grocery store industry.
OHIP Internship Details
The Occupational Health Internship Program (OHIP) is housed under the auspices of the Association of Occupational of Environmental Clinics (AOEC) with internships and training centers in the San Francisco Bay area, Los Angeles, San Diego, Boston, Chicago and New York. UCLA LOSH manages the internship program in Southern California.
The purpose of OHIP is to provide an experiential learning process: students learn about the field of occupational health and safety from the perspective of workers. Unlike typical internships that place students in corporate settings, OHIP assigns students with unions, worker centers, and community-based organizations. This provides students the opportunity to learn directly from those with most at stake; the workers. The skills and interests of the interns are linked with the needs of workers' health and safety concerns.
Students work in teams of two, typically a graduate and undergraduate student, and collaborate with a workplace sponsor on a particular occupational health project that addresses specific concerns raised by workers. Supervision and mentorship is provided by senior occupational health researchers from UC Berkeley, UCLA, San Diego State University, and the California Department of Public Health.
The interns receive supervision from health and safety mentors who provide technical and scientific expertise. With guidance from the mentors, interns identify and document safety and health problems, recommend ways to reduce or eliminate hazards, and share this information with workers and employers through educational sessions. Not only does this strengthen the student's investigative and technical skills, it also empowers the workers.
The students based at UCLA-LOSH have played an integral role in improving health and safety conditions across various occupations. Their accomplishments include:
- Contributing to negotiating health and safety committees in union contracts
- Educating hundreds of workers on various health and safety topics
- Opening communication lines between workers and management
- Designing and distributed numerous educational materials
- Undergraduate or graduate students with at least two years of study in a field related to public health, environmental studies, or public policy. Graduate students in public health, medicine and nursing are also encouraged to apply.
- Experience or interest in working with unions or social justice organizations.
- Organized, self-starting, and have good team skills.
- Ideally speak a second language of new immigrant workers (Spanish, Mandarin, Korean, Vietnamese, etc.) or come from minority and recent immigrant groups.
Some stipend slots are restricted to U.S. citizens. Non-U.S. citizens must supply documentation of permission to work in the U.S.
How to Apply
Apply online through the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics (AOEC) website. You may also contact the AOEC at (888) 347-2632 for more information.
Support for the OHIP Program comes from both multiyear grants through the National Institute for Occupational, Safety and Health (NIOSH) and The California Wellness Foundation, as well as stipends and in-kind donations through the California Department of Public Health, the UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health (LOSH Program), the Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP)-UC Berkeley, and other academic institutions, non-profit organizations and volunteers. These latter funding mechanisms vary from summer to summer. A complete list of funders for a specific summer is available from the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics,