Principal Investigator / Institution

Krystal Hepburn, Ph.D.
Krystal Hepburn, Ph.D.
Tel 870-413-6193
[email protected]
OAI, Inc.
180 N. Wabash Avenue, Suite 750
Chicago, Illinois 60601


Program Contact

Montgomery D. Profitt
Director (ECWTP)
Tel 312-528-3521
[email protected]
OAI, Inc.
180 N. Wabash Avenue, Suite 750
Chicago, Illinois 60601

Program Description

OAI logo

OAI, Inc is an independent community-based not-for-profit organization based in Chicago. OAI has been providing worker safety and health training and related community service programs since it was founded in 1976. OAI has been funded by the NIEHS WTP program since 1995 and is also the recipient of other federal, state, and foundation grants to support its programs.

NIEHS WTP is supporting the OAI Training Consortium again in the current funding cycle (2020-2025) under the leadership of PI Salvatore Cali, MPH, CIH. The Consortium consists of nationwide partners that coordinate with OAI’s Hazardous Waste Worker Training Program (HWWTP) and Environmental Careers Worker Training Program (ECWTP) to deliver training. Some training is designed to enhance job-related skills and prepare trainees for technical courses. Both HWWTP and ECWTP promote public health and prevent work-related harm through safety and health training to underserved populations and communities. The training advances the NIEHS mission to address hazardous waste site safety under the authority of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA), and to support community health by “minimizing the risks to human health and the environment posed by hazardous sites.”

The OAI mission is to provide skills training that leads to safe, meaningful employment while helping communities, employees, and employers to thrive. OAI strives to honor the diverse individuals and communities that it serves.

OAI-HWWTP targets three underrepresented and diverse worker populations: 1) Emergency First Responders & Law Enforcement personnel whose departments lack resources and equipment for adequate training; 2) Transitional and Temporary Workers, some of whom are high-school dropouts, re-entering the workforce following incarceration, or otherwise disadvantaged in terms of finding full-time, meaningful employment; 3) Non-union or otherwise under-represented workers who are often persons of color or 1st generation ethnicity. The latter two populations may work in jobs that are undervalued or vulnerable to exploitation, such as Latinx workers involved in post-disaster environmental cleanup, short-term construction/ renovation, or female Vietnamese nail salon workers. The OAI HWWTP Collaborative includes 13 key partners representing target populations in 19 states.

Significance:  OAI training is intended to protect the health and safety of targeted worker populations that are disproportionately affected by exposures to occupational hazards. OAI’s training plan includes two new areas of focus: Infectious Disease Response and Ammonia Safety Awareness. The Infectious Disease component has turned out to be invaluable because OAI’s HWWTP program was prepared, along with support and assistance from NIEHS WTP, to provide train-the-trainer courses that disseminated worker protection information to multiple audiences during the current COVID-19 Pandemic.

Approach:  HWWTP has refined and successfully deployed the Train-the-Trainer training strategy over the past 24 years. The strategy improves trainer skills, increases trainer diversity and quality, and expands training capacity and sustainability through the multiplier effect. OAI has developed successful partnerships with YouthBuild USA, the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative. These partnerships demonstrated that development of local training capacity generates cohorts of peer trainers who are culturally competent, familiar with resources in their areas and are capable of customizing training and conveying critical health and safety information to their audience. 

Innovation:  HWWTP utilizes awareness of the Social Ecological Model (SEM) and introduce NIOSH Total Worker Health (TWH) models that consider holistic training impacts. Strategies include evaluations of courses, curricula, and instructors as well as focus group interviews that assess program quality and opportunities for improvement. OAI has adapted its Learning Management System for Vietnamese nail salon workers to access safety awareness training modules. This cost effectively increases training access and enable workers to quickly reference critical workplace safety practices in their native language.

Environment:  HWWTP training underscores the importance of not only protecting worker health from hazard exposures but also protecting the environment through effective response to, and mitigation of, environmentally harmful contaminants.

OAI-ECWTP recruits, trains, and places underemployed individuals who face multiple barriers to employment for this funding cycle. Recruitment focuses on African-Americans, Latinx, women and re-entry citizens (formerly incarcerated) who are Environmental Justice urban core residents of four target communities: Chicago, Dallas, and Kansas City, MO/KS and a new partner in Indianapolis. The Consortium will be implemented by: OAI, Chicago; CitySquare, Dallas; NuStart Career Builders, Kansas City and RecycleForce, Indianapolis.

Significance: OAI-ECWTP provides training for persons who work at hazardous waste sites, handle hazardous materials, and perform related environmental health and safety work. This training promotes primary prevention in public health by addressing disparities in employment, environmental justice, and worker safety.

Innovation: OAI-ECWTP continuously expands its innovative retention and instructional strategies (Alumni Mentors, Blended Learning, Comprehensive PowerSkills Training); and continues to perfect current best practices used to screen, evaluate, and select program participants (Try-Out, use of Social Media, Alumni Activities).

Approach: The Consortium excels in establishing long-term partnerships for accessing target populations, and collaborations with municipalities, employers, community groups, trainers and past graduates. ECWTP provides training that responds to local employer hiring needs. Core health and safety courses provide technical certifications required for EHS-related employment. Core soft skills or power skills provide job search, life skills and community focused environmental justice training. Career-specific training provides focused courses in Environmental/Construction, Commercial Truck Driving with Hazmat Endorsement, Solar Photovoltaic Installation, Hazardous Household Material Handling and Welding/Electrical. Mentoring, case-management, job placement, and follow-up/tracking services are provided to all students.

Environment: OAI Consortium members and collaborators have invested in critical infrastructure, facilities, data management systems, and resources to ensure appropriate classroom and hands-on training and accurate follow-up and tracking. OAI aims for sustainability by building the capacity of its training partners to leverage current and future funding opportunities.

Image of two men standing before a home construction site

Meet Victor who completed the Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) YouthBuild program. Victor obtained his High School Diploma, his Home Builders Institute Pre Apprentice Certificate in Carpentry and his OSHA 10 certificate through support from OAI. Following graduation, Victor touted the importance of the OSHA certificate for being admitted to the Union and obtaining paid construction work. He said that having the OSHA certificate was one of the training skills the Laborers Local 177 Union reviewed favorably for apprenticeship.  He was able to get a job with McAninch Corporation, a family-owned union company with a national reputation.  Victor now works as a Laborer and has a livable wage with retirement and health benefits. Victor said, “Being able to get the job and join the Union all started with having my OSHA certificate provided by DMACC YouthBuild. I am forever grateful for this opportunity.” (IA Congressional District 3)

Image of woman wearing a green hard hat and an orange vest

Meet Je’Bre B. who came to the LA Conservation Corps in 2017 when she was homeless and was staying at a shelter where she found out about LA Corps’ programs.  Je’Bre earned CAL OSHA 10 certification (with OAI HWWT sponsorship), First Aid/CPR, Intel Drone Training certification, and is currently completing an environmental remediation course. Je’Bre is also working to obtain her CA driver’s license and hopes to purchase her first vehicle in the coming months. Je’Bre is a proud member of the East LA Leadership Council and her next goal is to join an apprenticeship program in the construction industry. (CA Congressional District 40)

Image of man holding a potted plant

Meet Mark F. who recently finished an internship at Cara’s Cleanslate program.  “When I came to Cara, I was limited in my job search but was dedicated to moving forward in my life.  I signed up for the OSHA Certification to give myself a better chance at obtaining a job.  I didn’t know much about safety but the OSHA course taught me a lot.  This training helped me get a job at Greencorps, where we work to beautify the city’s parks and greenery.  We work with tools, machinery, and pesticides and OSHA training helped me to understand the importance of safety and to land this job.” (IL Congressional District 7)


Group of people standing during a training

OAI partner, Mendez Environmental, offered an Asbestos Worker Initial course to 21 immigrant day laborers affiliated with the New Orleans based Congreso de Jornaleros (Congress of Day Laborers) who work on residential and commercial renovation sites in Baton Rouge and surrounding areas impacted by flooding.


Project Duration

  • August 4, 2020 - May 31, 2025 (HWWTP, ECWTP)

Grant Numbers

  • U45 ES007850 (HWWTP, ECWTP)

Other Participating Organizations