Environmental Health Practitioner
Do you care about the environment and the health of humans and living things?
If all aspects of the built and natural environment interest you, then you should consider a career within environmental health. A practitioner in this field looks at the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and even the human-made structures we create and how it impacts the world. Want to know more? Read our comprehensive guide below!
What is environmental health?
It is a branch of public health and looks at all things, both built and natural, around us and the effect on the environment, animals and people. An environmental health agency will investigate poor health environments and work to improve the conditions where we work, visit and live.
People who work within environmental services make a massive difference to health and wellbeing. What does environmental health deal with? From air, water, food and environment around us, they deal with anything across all areas. They can be specialised or work across various departments as generalists.
What is an environmental health officer (EHO)?
An officer or environmental health practitioner (EHP), use technical and scientific knowledge to ensure people work, play and live in healthy environments. Much like other jobs in environmental health, they implement, develop and enforce policies, use technical skills and insight to safeguard standards that are relevant to the public’s well-being.
The role may work with an environmental health inspector or an environmental health technician in other departments. The job also requires collaboration from an EHP or EHO, meaning they’ll liaise with council departments, officers from various departments and the HSE (Health and Safety Executive).
They can work across many areas, from housing, noise control and pollution control to environmental protection, public health and waste management. Also, food safety and standards, occupational health and safety and armed services employ environmental health practitioners.
EHO’s start between £25,000 and £35,000, although at a senior or managerial level this can rise to range from £38,000 and £60,000.
What does an environmental health officer do?
Now we understand where they work, what do environmental health officers do? The role of an environmental health officer includes carrying out visits and inspections - both routine or unplanned - and checking whether health and safety laws are followed. They may take action to improve conditions, offer advice and guidance to business and homeowners. Environmental health officers take photos, remove samples, product drawings, write reports and interview individuals while inspecting a site.
Under the environmental health officer job description, we find they may carry out inspections after a particular time has passed or to investigate complaints from staff or the public. An environmental health officer can investigate outbreaks of infectious disease, accidents at work, complaints about low standards of health and safety, monitor radiation activity and identify areas of negligence from the householder or employer. Additionally, they may take samples to test and improve standards, for example, at a public swimming pool.
Monitoring land, noise, air and water pollution, checking the health and welfare of livestock on farms and issuing licences for animal-related organisations are everyday tasks. You may see them give presentations and talks at meetings, enquiries and exhibitions. What is the role of an environmental health officer in the eyes of the law? They can take enforcement action, prepare and give evidence in courts and initiate legal proceedings if needed. Also, they may advise on issues for new developments and buildings and arrange for abandoned refuse and vehicles to be removed. Can environmental health officers interview customers? In most cases, they interview staff regarding health and safety but can investigate customer complaints.
What powers does an environmental health officer have?
What does an environmental health officer have the power to do? They can interview staff, investigate complaints, check health and safety regulations, ensure that legislation is being followed and initiate court proceedings. They can request to see records, remove samples for testing, take photos and produce drawings. What does an environmental health officer check for? It can vary on the site they’re visiting, from water pollution to food standards. How often do environmental health visit? They can visit unannounced or during a routine visit or following a concern or a complaint; therefore, there is no ‘regular’ period when they conduct their checks. When can an environmental health officer visit? They can visit anytime you are operating but also ask for a planned visit during evenings and weekends.
What is it like working as an environmental health practitioner?
Work can be dirty and unpleasant, and you may venture inside unclean or unsafe buildings. You’ll work in all weather and environments and to wear protective gear at all times when on-site if it is required. The tasks are varied based on what type of establishment you’re entering, so it may be stressful or confrontational at times due to the nature of the job, especially when you’re checking if health and safety regulations are being followed or taking enforcement action.
You may be based across various areas in large towns and cities and travel to different sites throughout the working day to conduct inspections. The rest of the job is usually within an office environment where you will write up reports and liaise with other officials.
How to become an environmental health officer?
There are environmental health officer qualifications you need to work in this career. Environmental health training typically is in the form of an undergraduate or Master’s degree at an accredited institution by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH). The CIEH accredited degree will allow you to work for local government and the Health and Safety Executive. An undergraduate or Master’s in environmental health can be completed on a full-time or part-time basis, and even in integrated and sandwich courses.
An environmental health agency will investigate poor health environments and work to improve the conditions where we work, visit and live.
You may wish to complete some work experience in between studying and opt for the sandwich degree; others choose to study the course and then look for employment after graduation. However, suppose you already have a degree that is in another subject. In that case, you can instead choose an MSc in environmental health which is accredited, to learn the necessary skills and knowledge for the role. To get a spot on a postgraduate qualification, the CIEH accredits it you’d need a relevant environmental health degree at the undergraduate level, and this can be a science-based subject or something related to EH, like sustainability.
Although, if there is a specialist area you’d like to venture into, you can undertake studies in the related subjects. How to become a food hygiene inspector? A food technology degree or qualification in food premises inspection can help you specialise in this area. Various environmental health courses allow you to enter this profession, including the diploma in environmental health. The most crucial factor is to ensure it is accredited by the CIEH.
Some individuals choose to study an accredited programme (diploma or foundation degree), work as an environmental health technician and study for a degree or MSc in environmental health part-time.
What skills are useful for an EHO officer?
As an environmental health officer can interview staff and deal with complaints, they’ll need excellent communication skills. Writing and reporting skills are crucial as well following an environmental health inspection. An excellent scientific knowledge, ability and technical insight are essential, alongside having the ability to make smart decisions quickly.
For environmental health and safety jobs, you need to be flexible - as it may require weekend or evening work - good time management and superb organisational skills, since you may be writing reports for more than one inspection each week. You’ll need confidence for when you arrive at establishments and when dealing with the members of the public, and be self-motivated. Also, IT skills, managing your workload and meeting deadlines whilst under pressure are essential. Knowledge of legislation and the environmental health certificate is critical.
Most employers ask individuals to have a full UK driving licence as you’ll need to visit various sites across a designated patch. Lastly, having an analytical, research and a careful, systematic approach to the work is useful for the environmental health service.
What is the average environmental health officer salary?
Typically, EHO’s start between £25,000 and £35,000, although at a senior or managerial level this can rise to range from £38,000 and £60,000. An occupational health practitioner can earn more when working in advanced positions, for example, head of the department.
Earnings between local authorities can vary, and if you are specialised in a particular area, your wage may differ as well. Employers may offer performance-related pay schemes, and those working in the private sector tend to earn more. The basic salary may be subsidised with work and travel expenses on top.
Where to find jobs for environmental health office positions?
Employers tend to be local authorities, central government, supermarkets, NHS, holiday companies, the armed forces and consultancies. You may work within the housing, public health, health and safety at work, food safety or environmental protection departments within your employment. Additionally, government agencies like the Food Standards Agency, Environment Agency, and the Health and Safety Executive also employ environmental health officers.
Work can be dirty and unpleasant, and you may venture inside unclean or unsafe buildings.
Although, accredited courses are accepted worldwide so if you want to open up your opportunities even further, you could work in other countries, like Australia , Canada, New Zealand and the USA, or for large organisations like the European Commission.
What are the prospects for an environmental health practitioner?
After becoming qualified with an accredited course, you’ll obtain general insight into various areas of the role. Some individuals choose to work in a broad career and deal with a variety of functions, while others specialise. General practitioners work in smaller areas, usually for local authorities and deal with all environmental-related issues.
However, larger companies employ specialised roles for the main areas, like housing and food safety. To progress in the career, you should work towards gaining chartered status and further studies and development while working. Once you show your commitment, expertise and knowledge, after around 10 to 15 years you can move up to senior positions.
Some authorities may have large departments for environmental health and may offer structured career progression, while smaller agencies may not. Individuals can move up to become the head of a department or to choose to transfer into the private sector. There is also the chance to work overseas or to enter the academic industry and lecture future environmental health practitioners.