In 2002, I was welcomed to the Occupational Safety and Environmental Health (OSEH) program at Millersville University (MU) as a full-time, tenure-track faculty member. With this position came the responsibility of enhancing the long-standing Safety Engineering Principles course with laboratory-based activities. This responsibility stemmed from the professional beliefs of program faculty that hands-on activities in the classroom improve the overall learning experience of students, especially in those courses that focus on science topics and engineering principles. Eager to take on this responsibility, I began my position at Millersville by determining how best to achieve this goal.
To begin the task of developing laboratory-based activities for the Safety Engineering Principles course, I first evaluated the overall curriculum taught in the OSEH program at MU to gain a full view of its content. I then compared this content to the skills and knowledge I recognized as being needed in the safety field. Based on my personal experience, I understood that the field of Occupational Safety encompassed many specialized areas of study, including industrial hygiene, environmental sciences, business management, fire safety, training and education, and safety engineering. In general, my experience also indicated that when tending to the needs of workers in the United States, safety professionals often turned to the guidelines and regulations set forth for the profession by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Additionally, I determined that such guidelines and regulations tended to be based on recommendations to the administration by professionals with specialized engineering degrees. Therefore, to truly understand OSHA standards, safety professional should have a sound understanding of those engineering principles that were used in developing the standards. Such knowledge would improve the ability of safety professionals to make appropriate identification of hazards and methods of their control.
Believing that adding laboratory-based activities to the Safety Engineering Principles course would, in fact, enhance the overall learning experience of students, I developed a plan to redesign the course. This plan included a review of the current syllabus, making a commitment to course content, developing a semester schedule, and developing hands-on activities.
Beginning the process by reviewing the syllabus presented to me for the Safety Engineering Principles course, along with the materials that were used to support the course in the years prior to my arrival, I found that the focus of the safety engineering course was based primarily on OSHA standards rather than those scientific engineering principles and techniques used to develop OSHA guidelines, regulations, and recommendations. It was quickly recognizable, as a result, that enhancing the course within the MU OSEH program meant developing laboratory activities that focused on those scientific engineering principles that were taught in basic engineering courses. In doing so, students would not only understand OSHA's requirements but, more importantly, why these requirements were selected by the administration.