Environmental health officers or EHOs are responsible for developing, implementing and enforcing health policies.
Environmental Health officers or EHOs are responsible for developing, implementing and enforcing health policies. They may work for private companies and organisations or in the public sector, e.g. for local government authorities and departments. Many specialise in specific areas of the industry, for example food safety, health and safety or housing. Although the job is mainly office-based, Environmental Health officers are also responsible for visiting sites and business premises to ensure that their policies are being adhered to and advising companies, organisations and individuals on various aspects of health and safety.
Graduate/Trainee salaries are typically between £25,000 and £34,000 according to Prospects, January 2006. These salaries may increase to between £30,000 and £60,000 for senior/managerial roles after 10 years' experience. Some Environmental Health officers earn over £60,000 but salaries depend very much on location and the size of the employer. Private sector jobs often pay much more than public sector jobs.
Jobs in environmental health often feature a variety of benefits including car allowance/company car, favourable pension schemes, up to six weeks annual leave and subsidies for childcare and relocation.
Tasks and responsibilities vary according to location, specialisation and level; however, here are a number of common jobs:
- Routine health and safety inspections
- Inspecting premises for compliance with health and safety guidelines
- Investigating workplace accidents
- Inspecting conditions of private and rented accommodation
- Issuing health and safety advice concerning new buildings
- Arranging for removal of abandoned vehicles and refuse
- Arranging licences for pet shops and other animal-related businesses
- Monitoring pollution and radiation levels
Environmental Health Officers require an undergraduate (BSc) or master's (MSc) degree in environmental health. These qualifications are accredited by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health in England, Wales and Northern Ireland or the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland in Scotland and can be obtained through full-time or part-time study. Sandwich courses are also available. It should be noted that there are very few postgraduate courses in this discipline and candidates for these courses are required to have an undergraduate degree in a science-related degree.
There is also the possibility of working as an environmental health technician for a local council. Employers may offer the opportunity to study for a degree in Environmental Health part-time while working as an environmental health technician.
As with many careers nowadays, work experience is advisable and although not essential, it can prove to be very valuable when applying for courses and later jobs. Local authorities often offer training placements and there are similar placements also available with companies, government departments and the NHS. In addition to the relevant qualification, Environmental Health officers need to complete 48 weeks of practical training of this kind. This may be during holidays, as part of the course or after graduation.
This practical training is then followed by professional examinations, which include five written exams, an interview and an audit. The Environmental Health Registration Board presents successful candidates with a Certificate of Registration, showing their professional status as Environmental Health officers.
Environmental Health officers must continue to undergo training throughout their careers to ensure that their skills and knowledge are kept up to date.
Environmental Health Officers are normally required to possess the following skills:
- strong communication skills
- good decision making skills
- high level of literacy and numeracy
- assertiveness and diplomacy
- team player as well as able to use their initiative
Most jobs also require a full driving licence due to on-site inspections and visits.
Environmental Health Officers usually work full-time, i.e. between 35 and 39 hours each week. However, start and finish times tend to be fairly flexible and where overtime is required, this is made up for with time off in lieu. Most Environmental Health Officers have office-based jobs although they also spend large amounts of time visiting business premises. Travel during the working day is therefore very common. Overnight and foreign travel is uncommon, although it does depend on the job. Working conditions may be dirty and/or unpleasant but this is just another part of the job’s diversity. Work may also be stressful and unsociable.
There are few opportunities for self-employment and freelance work, although experienced Environmental Health Officers may achieve this with a specialist skillset.
Most Environmental Health officers are employed by local authorities, responsible for protecting public health, although there are also jobs checking health and safety standards within large companies as well as the armed forces and the NHS.
Some Environmental Health officers go on to work as private consultants in the field and positions abroad also arise occasionally, e.g. the European Commission or in developing countries.
Major employers include:
Many Environmental Health Officers work in teams, headed by a team leader. However, some local authorities have fairly flat management structures so chances for promotion are limited.
Career progression often requires relocation and specialisation in individual divisions, e.g. food safety, environmental protection, housing and public health.
As in many professions, senior positions go hand in hand with added responsibilities, such as creating policies and training new Environmental Health officers. In local government positions, senior Environmental Health officers may act as the contact person for government departments.
Andrew Walsh works for the BBC as a safety adviser, having qualified as an Environmental Health Practitioner ...I’ve been working for the BBC since August 2007. Before that I worked in local government and primary care after qualifying as an Environmental Health Practitioner in 2003. It may be a cliché, but every day is different. I work for BBC Safety and support productions to help make content. I support a number of different areas from TV programmes such as Crimewatch and Last Man Standing to events and technology divisions. I love the diversity because one minute I could be doing an investigation for a forthcoming production, or on location whilst filming to check they are doing everything they said they would and the next minute inspecting film caterers, technology labs, or working with a contractor to fit-out new warehouses for all the BBC’s archive material to go into. I also monitor the safety management processes for the productions and divisions, doing accident investigations or auditing risk assessments. We have in-house specialists such as pilots, rope experts, divers, former cameramen, ex-fire-fighters, ex-military officers so I am always asking questions and sharing problems.
I have always liked the creative arts and TV as well as backstage theatre work, so I still get excited when watching a live studio or filming on location. I have been lucky so far as I have been involved with productions such as East Enders and Children in Need. I’ve even been to Indonesia for an adventure programme and to various music events. I don’t really have any dislikes about my job, because I’ve only been in this position for a year and the BBC is a fascinating organisation. However, the move from local government enforcement (and the North West) to London and a private organisation has taken a little getting used to. The culture is very different but fun.
For anyone considering this as a career, I would say that like most jobs, it’s about who you know. There are Environmental Health Practitioners everywhere, so find one, speak to them and get your foot in the door. Seeing the job first hand is really interesting and local councils are a good place to start. The job and profession is diverse and whatever your interest - food, safety, environmental protection (pollution), pests, contaminated land etc - there is a role somewhere for everyone. The skills you have as an EHP are also very transferable. One minute you might be speaking to an injured person, the next to a senior manager, trader or member of the public.