Anthony Onokwu

Keeping Workplaces Safe

Student tackles safety challenges

Antony at DisneyFor almost a year, graduate student Anthony Onokwu has been interning with two major corporations – Walt Disney World and Frito-Lay, Inc.

Onokwu, a student in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the Texas A&M School of Public Health, worked to make sure that safety standards were met and performed various safety tasks at both companies.

First, Onokwu interned at Walt Disney World in Orlando for four months, where he was a safety intern with the Resorts Safety Team conducting safety audits, monthly incident reports and performing food safety tasks.

“It was an amazing opportunity to see how a company like Disney tackles safety in creative ways, while still disguising them as to not be obvious to guests,” Onokwu said. “For example, on some of the rides, emergency exits and safety devices are hidden into the design and props of the rides. Guests would never even notice.”

Onokwu also worked with Walt Disney World’s dive team, who perform underwater maintenance in bodies of water across property, to make instructional videos for new diver recruits.

Disney Dive Team“This was interesting to me because I was able to learn about dive safety, an area I knew nothing about, and how it is used at Disney,” Onokwu said.

Once this internship was complete, Anthony headed to Topeka, Kansas for the summer where he was a safety intern at a Frito-Lay plant. There he helped implement safety programs and assisted with environmental health issues.

He learned and observed how safety was conducted in a large manufacturing plant with a large number of employees. Onokwu helped implement the plant’s first formal Health and Safety Management of Change Program, which documents all changes made in the plant that could impact risk or injuries. He also worked with the Explosion Prevention Program documenting raw ingredients and how they were received, stored, material composition, where each ingredient was used and if there was any explosive or fire protection device currently in place in those areas.

When the summer ended, Onokwu returned to Orlando to complete yet another internship with Disney, but this time with the Programs Safety Team.  Here he focused on proactive safety planning, rather than responding to incidents that had already happened.

Of particular interest to Onokwu was a children falls project he worked on, evaluating the safety of resort property balconies and outdoor furnishing.  Combining his findings with data on children’s climbing ability and fall information by age, he assisted in developing safety recommendations presented to the Disney Executive Safety Committee.

“Instead of waiting for an incident to take place and then reacting, we evaluated what we had in place and looked to make improvements for a safer guest experience.”

Onokwu said that he has learned two valuable lessons that he will consider when ultimately choosing his first job following graduation: the value of relationship building and the importance of assessing a company’s work culture.

“During the internship, you're meeting individuals with years of experience that have a lot of helpful knowledge you can learn from if you will ask,” Onokwu said. “They can help introduce you to other people they've worked with that have moved to other companies as well as assist in job opportunities in their current company.”

Also, Onokwu emphasizes every company has a culture that you may or may not like. “These internships gave me the opportunity to see if I fit the company, something I would never have had a chance to experience without interning first.”