Dr. Clint Pinion, associate professor of environmental health science and director of the Master of Public Health Program at EKU, combines his passion for teaching with a desire to improve workplaces across the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
“I grew up in eastern Kentucky where I saw a lot of folks working low wage jobs where they didn't have control over their workplace,” said Pinion. “And they were afraid to basically blow the whistle or make any trouble, because they didn't want to lose the only thing that was keeping them afloat financially.”
A graduate of EKU’s Master of Public Health Program, Pinion returned to EKU as a faculty member four years ago after earning a doctorate and working for several years as an environmental health and safety professional in Texas. At EKU, he not only educates students in the fields of environmental health science and public health, he also works with students to research techniques for improving workplace conditions.
In collaboration with a public health graduate student, Pinion recently completed two research projects, both focused on safety citizenship. Put simply, Pinion explained safety citizenship as workplace safety programming beyond the baseline regulatory requirements mandated by different agencies like the Department of Labor and Environmental Protection Agency. Examples of safety citizenship include improving workplace safety through providing suggestions for organization safety change, participating in safety activities beyond mere safety compliance, championing workplace safety programs and policies, assisting coworkers for coaching and exemplifying proper safety behaviors.
“The reason it's important is we know that when you have increased safety participation, it leads to a reduction in occupational injuries, illnesses and incidents,” Pinion said.
In one of the projects, Pinion researched the effects of job control on safety citizenship. Job control refers to how much control employees have over their work and what they do at work in terms of when they take breaks, what materials they have available to do their work and the people they work with, Pinion explained. He said job control is often an issue among hourly employees, minimum wage or low wage workers, who have little to no control over their workplace.
As a result of the research, Pinion and the graduate student discovered the more job control a person has, the higher the safety citizenship. They also found the opposite to be true – lower levels of job control correlated with lower safety citizenship scores.
Digging further into the topic, the other research project focused on the subsections of safety citizenship. Pinion wondered, what subsections make the most impact on safety citizenship?
While all of the sub-dimensions of safety citizenship are crucial, they found that higher levels of stewardship and whistleblowing resulted in significant reductions in self-reported occupational injuries and illnesses. Stewardship involves watching out for coworkers and being “your brother’s or sister’s keeper” in the workplace family, as Pinion said. Whistleblowing would be informing a supervisor of potential incidents that could result in workers getting hurt. These two subsections had the highest impact on safety citizenship.
Pinion also works with undergraduate students on research projects. Last year, they conducted a study on air quality in stockyards. They placed air strips at the height of a person’s breathing zone to collect particulate matter – dirt, dust and stuff that gets knocked up in the air from the livestock moving through, as Pinion explained. From the particulate collected on the air strips, they were able to culture antimicrobial resistant bacteria, indicating a potential health hazard for stockyard workers. With the information gathered from this initial research, Pinion would like to conduct additional studies in personal monitoring and mitigating exposure to particulate matter.
In addition to continuing to investigate air quality in stockyards, Pinion plans to expand on his research in safety citizenship. He sees safety citizenship as a core value for companies and would like to look deeper into physical and mental stressors and how they impact occupational injuries and illnesses.
One of only 28 accredited undergraduate and nine graduate programs in environmental health, the faculty within EKU’s environmental health program are nationally and internationally known for their expertise and research in the field. For Pinion, conducting research alongside students provides meaning in his work. Students gain valuable experience, while new discoveries continue to unfold. Pinion’s goals remain focused on applying research and data findings to both educate students and improve workplace conditions across Kentucky.