Improve Environmental and Occupational Health with a Master of Public Health Degree

Healthy environments and workplaces can lessen disease burden and contribute to safer communities. However, achieving these goals for a healthy environment or workplace requires the expertise and guidance of public health specialists who can ensure regulations align with greater population health goals, pinpoint areas for improvement and advocate for vulnerable groups and workers.

Graduates of the online Master of Public Health (MPH) – General program from Eastern Washington University (EWU) can respond to today’s most pressing environmental and occupational health concerns.

What Public Health Issues Arise From Environmental and Occupational Hazards?

Unfortunately, environmental and occupational hazards are widespread and often exacerbated by climate change and a lack of regulations. These circumstances can potentially impact large swaths of the population, including the most vulnerable, and highlight the need for public health specialists who can mitigate these risks.

People living in areas without stringent environmental protections may succumb to more illnesses and diseases. For example, lead contamination and chemical runoff from farming or industrial operations can pollute water and air and increase the likelihood of people developing chronic respiratory diseases, skin conditions and cancers.

Extreme weather events are another environmental concern that can create immediate and long-term risks for individuals and communities. Organizations, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, anticipate that extreme weather events — like hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, flooding and fluctuating temperatures — will increase in frequency and severity. In those cases, standing water may breed disease, causing wound infections and spreading otherwise preventable gastrointestinal illnesses. Warming temperatures may facilitate Lyme disease transmission and decrease crop yields. A catastrophic hurricane may displace thousands of people and limit their access to clean water, heating and cooling and telecommunications.

In addition, employees may experience a unique set of work-related hazards and injuries. For example, exposure to chemicals, radiation, heat, noise, violence and harassment can create employee risks. Inadequate access to ergonomic equipment and hygienic work environments poses health problems, too.

How Do Public Health Professionals Mitigate Environmental and Occupational Risks?

Despite the possible injuries and diseases caused by occupational and environmental hazards, public health specialists can mitigate much of the risk and improve outcomes in these areas — often significantly. By taking steps to build healthier environments and workplaces, up to one-quarter of global diseases and deaths could be prevented, according to the World Health Organization. Similarly, the American Public Health Association says that enhancing workplace protections could save more than 145 million U.S. workers from severe acute and long-term health consequences.

Public health specialists can mitigate environmental and occupational hazards in the following ways:

  • Assessing and monitoring the factors influencing the health of a community, workers and vulnerable groups such as the young, elderly, people with disabilities or low-income individuals
  • Identifying emerging environmental or workplace trends, like a rising number of preventable infectious diseases or repeated employee injuries
  • Advocating for legislation, policies and stricter regulatory compliance to ensure equitable protections are in place for all community members and workers
  • Partnering with local health organizations and employers to raise awareness of illness, injury and disease preventive measures and the steps necessary to maintain optimal health
  • Improving public health infrastructure, including data collection and reporting
  • Building a diverse team of public health professionals

What Do Graduates Learn in a Master of Public Health Program?

EWU’s online MPH program curriculum offers an Environmental and Occupational Health course that teaches students how human activities affect the environment and how these interactions influence population and occupational health. Plus, students gain a broad understanding of rural and global health through courses like Health Equity and Advocacy, Health Policy and Law, and Epidemiology.

Public health specialists are integral to improving health outcomes for individuals and communities. Whether mitigating the risks of climate change or evaluating new research to make workers safer, public health professionals can significantly enhance people’s day-to-day lives and long-term well-being.

Learn more about EWU’s online MPH – General program.

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