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Environmental Health Officers (also known as Public Health Inspectors) are responsible for carrying out measures for protecting public health, including administering and enforcing legislation related to environmental health and providing support to minimize health and safety hazards. They are involved in a variety of activities, for example inspecting food facilities, investigating public health nuisances, and implementing disease control. Environmental health officers are focused on prevention, consultation, investigation, and education of the community regarding health risks and maintaining a safe environment.
EHOs bring to the position an understanding of microbiology, risk assessment, environmental science and technology, food science, as well as the skills and knowledge related to the tracking and control of communicable disease. They must also have strong investigative skills and a thorough understanding of the application of legislation related to public health and the environment. Working in partnership with Government Ministries (such as Health, Agriculture and Environment), local municipalities, businesses, community groups, other agencies and individual members of the community, the EHO plays a major role in protecting public health.
Some past/historic titles include inspector of nuisances, sanitarian, and sanitary inspector. Other titles that currently exist include environmental health specialist/practitioner/professional, public health officer, health officer, health inspector, and health official. The legal title used will depend on the definitions found in local legislation/jurisdiction.
Environmental health professionals are usually employed by local government or state health authorities to advise on and enforce public health standards. However, many are employed in the private sector and in the military.
The following represents jobs that can be found in either the public or private sectors:
The common identifier of environmental health personnel is that they are responsible for the identification, evaluation and management of risks to human health from factors in the environment, whether on behalf of government agencies or commercial and industrial concerns.
A Public Health Inspector (also known as an Environmental Health Officer) is a public employee who investigates health hazards in a wide variety of locations, and will take action to mitigate or eliminate the hazards. Usually the public perception of a health inspector is someone who examines restaurants and ensures they maintain sanitary standards for food safety set by the regulating authority. However, public health inspectors have much broader job duties, including inspecting swimming pools, substandard housing conditions, public schools, day cares, nursing homes, and personal service establishments such as tattoo parlours. Depending on their jurisdiction, Registered Environmental Health Officers often permit and inspect wells, private water systems, and individual subsurface sewage disposal (septic) systems. Other tasks include: campground inspections, tanning salon inspections, beauty salon inspections, correctional facility inspections and mobile home park inspection. The public health inspector (environmental health officer) also plays a vital role in community projects such as those concerning health promotion, tobacco reduction, healthy built environments/healthy communities, food security, and emergency preparedness.
They may also respond to complaints such as animal bites, garbage complaints, odor complaints, or sewage overflows. Due to their educational background they can provide information and referrals with regards to; lead, radon, mold, and emerging diseases such as West Nile Virus and Avian Flu. The field also overlaps with hazardous materials (Hazmat) and many Hazmat responders are also Licensed Environmental Health Practitioners or Registered Environmental Health Specialists.
Environmental health officers work with many different people in a variety of environments. Their jobs often involve considerable fieldwork, and some travel frequently. Many environmental health officers work long and often irregular hours. They inspect pools, childcare centers, restaurants, septic systems, and many other types of establishments that relate to health and safety.
Environmental health officers may be exposed to many of the same physically strenuous conditions and hazards as industrial employees, and the work may be performed in unpleasant, stressful, and dangerous working conditions. They may find themselves in an adversarial role if the management of an organization disagrees with the recommendations for ensuring a safe working environment.
The field of environmental health can be traced back to the 1840s in England. Edwin Chadwick, a Poor Law Commissioner, conducted an inquiry into the causes of poverty which concluded that people often became poor because of ill health due to a bad environment. He believed that improving sanitation was the key to breaking this vicious cycle.
Chadwick led a vigorous campaign for change which eventually won over the establishment, resulting in the Public Health Act 1848. The Act provided for the appointment of Inspectors of Nuisances – the forerunners of today’s environmental health practitioners – in areas of need.
The Association of Public Sanitary Inspectors – the organisation which was to become the United Kingdom's Chartered Institute of Environmental Health – was established in 1883. Over subsequent decades, the role of environmental health practitioners changed and grew, with standards of qualification rising until, in the 1960s, it became a graduate profession. The grant of a Royal Charter in 1984 set the seal on this enhanced role and status. As a result of changing roles, the titles have changed over the decades from inspector of nuisances -> sanitary inspector -> public health inspector / environmental health officer (see Inspector of Nuisances below). This is also true internationally, as the titles have changed to reflect the advanced education and roles of envivironmental health officers today.
An Inspector of Nuisances was the title of an office in several English-speaking jurisdictions. In many jurisdictions this term is now archaic, the position and/or term having been replaced by others. In the United Kingdom from the mid 19th century this office was generally associated with public health and sanitation.
The first Inspector of Nuisances appointed by a UK local authority Health Committee was Thomas Fresh in Liverpool in 1844. Both the 1855 Nuisances Removal and Diseases Prevention Act and the Metropolis Management Act 1855 defined such an office but with the title of 'Sanitary Inspector'. In local authorities that had established a Board of Health, the title was 'Inspector of Nuisances'. Eventually the title was standardized across all UK local authorities as 'Sanitary Inspector'. An Act of Parliament later changed the title to 'Public Health Inspector'. Similar offices were established across the British Empire.
The nearest modern equivalent of this position in the UK is an Environmental Health Officer. This title being adopted by local authorities on the recommendation of Central Government after the Local Government Act 1972. Today, Registered UK Environmental Health Officers working in non-enforcement roles (e.g. in the private sector) may prefer to use the generic term 'Environmental Health Practitioner'.
In the United States, a modern example of an officer with the title 'Inspector of Nuisances' but not the public health role is found in Section 3767 of the Ohio Revised Code which defines such a position to investigate nuisances, where this term broadly covers establishments in which lewdness and alcohol are found. Whereas in the United States the environmental health officer role in local authorities is taken by officers with the titles 'Registered Environmental Health Specialist' or 'Registered Sanitarian' depending on the jurisdiction. The role in the US Public Health Service is undertaken by Commissioned (uniformed) 'Environmental Health Officers'.
Environmental health is a graduate career in most countries. The minimum requirements in most countries include an approved university degree program, field training and professional certification & registration.
Environmental Health Australia accredits Australian Environmental Health Degree and Graduate Diploma programs in accordance with the Environmental Health Australia Accreditation Policy to ensure course content meets nationally consistent requirements for practice as an EHO anywhere in Australia. As at 1 July 2009 there are EHA-accredited Universities in every State and the Northern Territory.
The current requirement to become an authorised officer under the Food Act 1984 in Victoria is a BHSc Public & Environmental Health or Bachelor of Public Health (Environmental Health). The PHSc Public & Environmental Health degree is being offered by Swinburne University of Technology, located at its Hawthorn Campus.
The undergraduate course, Bachelor of Public Health (Environmental Health) is being offered by La Trobe University located at its Bendigo campus.
The Health Act 1911 (as amended) defines the role of 'environmental health officer', and empowers the Executive Director, Public Health to appoint EHOs to local government health authorities and as public health officials employed by State government. The Executive Director, Public Health is advised by the Western Australia Environmental Health Officer Professional Review Board on Environmental Health Graduate and Postgraduate qualifications that are deemed suitable to allow practice in Western Australia, and the qualifications are published from time to time in the Government Gazette.
Entrants to the profession must have either a BAppSc Health Protection or BHSc Environmental Health. Alternatively, suitably qualified science graduates can obtain a graduate diploma in environmental health.
To become an Environmental Health Officer it is necessary to hold an environmental health degree approved by the Department of Health & Children. The study of Environmental Health in Ireland also requires students to undertake a period of professional practice with the Health Service Executive. Following the period of professional practice, competence must then be demonstrated through an experiential learning logbook and oral examination.
EHOs must hold an undergraduate or postgraduate qualification recognised by (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) the Environmental Health Registration Board. Similar provisions exist in Scotland, where the profession is regulated by The Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland.
Following the educational requirements and practical training period, competence must then be demonstrated through an experiential learning logbook and oral examination before registration is granted.
Environmental Health Officers/Public Health Inspectors have a university degree in environmental health and a national professional certificate – the Certificate in Public Health Inspection (Canada), C.P.H.I.(C).
Public Health Inspectors are highly trained individuals whose training include a bachelor's degree in environmental health followed by certification by the Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors (CIPHI). To become nationally certified, public health inspectors must complete a field training practicum, submit a number of reports and pass the Institute's exam. Some inspectors have additional training in areas such as biology, toxicology and epidemiology.
Only five schools in Canada offer degree programs approved by the CIPHI as meeting the educational component for certification: Ryerson University, British Columbia Institute of Technology, Concordia University College of Alberta, Cape Breton University, and First Nations University of Canada. These programs are generally four years long, however fast-track programs are available in some schools for those who have completed a previous science degree.