<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=799546403794687&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">
Logo for Mountain & Plains ERC

Student Spotlight: Phillip Stepherson

minute read

Our center stands on three pillars: Research, Education, and Practice. One of the many ways we work to protect workers is through educating and training future leaders in occupational safety and health (OSH). As part of our Student Spotlight series highlighting our trainees, we interviewed Phillip Stepherson, a Mountain & Plains Education and Research Center (MAP ERC) trainee earning a Master's in Industrial Hygiene (IH) from Colorado State University (CSU).

Q&A Header

How did you find yourself in the field of OSH?

I actually found out about this field in a pretty unexpected way! I was working in sales after graduating from undergrad, and wasn’t really doing much with the degree. In a completely random conversation, a customer who is an industrial hygienist for the state of Washington told me about the field. After a lengthy discussion about his work and the field, I decided it was something I wanted to pursue. I found out that you could enter the field through a Master’s program and decided to go back to school! 

What attracted you to the MAP ERC?

This program was recommended to me by the advisor of the IH program at Montana Tech, another school I was applying to! After speaking with JoiLynn and Dr. Bill Brazile visiting Fort Collins, and learning about the ERC funding (which helped my girlfriend and I afford to move/live here), it was obviously the right choice. The program, location, and people are all fantastic and we had wanted to move to Colorado anyway so it worked out fantastically!

Tell us about an impactful project you’ve worked on as a part of the program.

My cohorts and I worked on a project with O’Dell Brewing Company, helping them to develop an Occupational Safety and Health Management System (OSHMS). This system helps companies organize and manage everything related to OSH including incident investigations, job hazard analysis, worker and management participation expectations, management of change and more. Implementing a system increases organization, assists with training and documentation, and decreases workplace injuries and illnesses. Helping to develop this system taught me quite a few things about the field.

What important lessons did you learn through this project?

I learned, primarily, the importance and impact of implementing a system, rather than just having an assortment of disjointed policies and procedures. Having a well-functioning system in place goes a long way in protecting workers. Since we had to create each section of the system from scratch, I learned a lot about what goes into a comprehensive health and safety program in a workplace. I got an introduction to all of the various aspects of OSH, the relationships between them, and how each piece functions to aid in providing a workplace free of hazards.

I took on an assistant team-lead role and got some great project/people management skills as well. Working with O’Dell gave me an idea of what it looks like to actually consult with a business and take what I learned in the classroom and apply it in a workplace. This project gave me a sweeping introduction to many important areas of IH, and will be extremely useful in practice since a systems-based approach to OSH is becoming increasingly popular in industry. 

Did you have any misconceptions about this program, field, or project that have since been resolved?

Not any misconceptions really, no, I’m just learning every day what IH is really all about! I didn’t realize how broad of a field it was and how many different things you can do that fall within the domain of IH. The diversity of career options is one of the things that keeping me so excited about this field!

How will your training/experience impact the field of OSH?

This program is comprehensive and also unique in some of the courses it offers (like the systems class mentioned above, developed by Dr. Brazile himself). There is a heavy focus on interdisciplinary work which is exceedingly important in this field due to the diversity of challenges facing OSH specialists. Also, only so much of this job can be taught in a classroom. A lot of it comes from experience, but a lot of it also comes by learning from those who have been in the field a long time.

There is some incredible talent at CSU in the IH field and getting to learn from them and work on projects with people from different specialties is truly producing graduates with a vast set of tools to with which to approach and tackle problems in the OSH world. I feel well prepared to begin my career as an IH and have been able to find my interests in the field, on which I can continue to focus and continue to learn about. I am confident that the experiences I have had here will launch a successful career and allow me to provide essential services for and prevent the injury or illness of whoever it is I am placed in charge of protecting.

How will your training/experience impact the larger body of workers, families, and communities?

In the U.S. you have to work. For most people, you simply do not have a choice. Your work is your livelihood, it’s a part of your identity, and it’s something that is almost sacred in our culture. And you will spend a huge amount of time doing it. You shouldn’t, then, have to be subjected to injuries or illnesses that can impact your quality of life or even kill you while you’re doing it; especially not for someone else’s profit. And that is what industrial hygiene is all about. Keeping workers safe, directly.

Assessing exposures, hazards, and engineering solutions to mitigate them so that workers can go home to their families, and workers, families and communities are not subjected to the damage that comes along with being harmed simply for doing what every American has to do. The high standard and quality of training provided by CSU will allow me and my cohorts to provide excellent service in whatever area of IH we find ourselves in, ensuring the maximum reach our efforts and the highest degree of protection from undue harm for the workers, families, and communities we find ourselves working for.

What is the next step for you after exiting the program?

I have an internship this summer with a large IH consulting firm out of Syracuse, NY. My intention after graduating is to continue in the consulting line of work. It’s a preventative approach to OSH, and by assessing and controlling the hazards before they result in an incident, we have the possibility of making a huge impact on a lot of workers lives.

Topics: Students,