Environmental health practitioners (EHPs) protect and improve the environments in which people live and work and protect public health by ensuring conditions are safe and hygienic.
In the private sector, EHPs (often called environmental health consultants) advise businesses on environmental health and legal obligations. In local authorities, EHPs are often called environmental health officers. As well as offering advice and giving talks to business and schools, they ensure standards and legal requirements are met. In some cases, where an individual or business breaks the law, this can mean gathering evidence and presenting it in court.
EHPs may have a general role, but others specialise, usually in one or a combination of the following:
Food Safety: ensuring that food in restaurants, butchers', canteens and so on is prepared, handled, stored and served in a hygienic and safe way. They investigate food complaints and cases of food poisoning.
Health and Safety at Work: offering advice to businesses, schools and other organisations to safeguard employees and the public. EHPs check safety, assess risks and investigate accidents.
Housing: monitoring housing standards, especially properties split into flats and bedsits, to make sure there are enough washing facilities, smoke alarms and so on. EHPs may have to take legal action if landlords are unwilling to make necessary repairs and alterations.
Pest Control: investigating problems with pests such as rats or cockroaches, especially in food premises.
Environmental Protection: monitoring dangerous levels of air, water, land and noise pollution, identifying problems and taking action to rectify them. EHPs take samples of water and soil, to monitor pollution levels in the air, or measure noise levels, and recommend solutions. They may have to take enforcement action to get a business to clean up its act, or intervene in neighbourhood noise disputes, such as disturbance from DIY equipment or loud music.
Public Health: taking part, alongside doctors, health visitors, and dieticians, in local and national initiatives to improve awareness and understanding of health issues.
Contaminated Land: investigating and assessing the risk of sites contaminated by refuse, toxic or dangerous waste.
Environmental health practitioners work closely with other professionals in related agencies, such as the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive, Trading Standards, and local health authorities. They also work closely with developers, architects and engineers to find decontamination and reclamation solutions, and with a wide range of other professionals, including solicitors, surveyors, police officers and coroners.
EHPs work normal office hours, but some out-of-hours working may be necessary, including evenings and weekends. It may be possible to work on a part-time, flexitime or job share basis.
The role is office based, but practitioners also visit businesses, factories, offices, houses and flats. Some environments are noisy, unpleasant and dirty.
Smart casual or business dress is normally expected. Protective clothing, including overalls, hats, masks and boots, is required for some inspections.
A driving licence is useful.
The average starting salary is around £24,000 a year.
With more experience, EHPs may earn around £30,000 to £38,000. Senior consultants may earn £45,000 a year or more.
Jobs are available throughout the UK. Opportunities are good and there is a strong demand for qualified environmental health practitioners. There are jobs with local authorities, central government agencies, the armed forces and environmental consultancies, and in organisations such as food companies and airlines. The number of opportunities in the private sector is growing.
Vacancies are advertised in the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) publication, Environmental Health News, in the local and national press, on the local government jobs website: www.lgjobs.com, and through local council websites and jobs bulletins.
Environmental health is a graduate profession, so all would-be practitioners need a degree accredited by the CIEH.
A minimum of two A levels, including a science subject, plus five GCSE's (A*-C), including English, maths and science, is normally required for entry to a degree course in environmental health. The 14-19 Diploma in society, health and development and the Diploma in environmental and land-based studies may be a useful starting point.
Alternatives for entry include BTEC qualifications or a foundation degree in a relevant subject. For foundation degrees, candidates usually need a minimum of four GCSE's (A*-C), preferably to include English and maths, and at least one A level in a science or technology-related subject, or equivalent. Courses are either full time or part time and last between two and four years. Afterwards it is possible to enter the final year of a degree course in environmental health.
There are one-year science Access courses to prepare people for a degree course. Graduates who already have a BSc in another field may be able to go straight onto a Masters course in environmental health.
Most universities offer the option of studying part time, and for Masters degrees, there are distance-learning options.
All graduate and postgraduate courses cover the five key areas of environmental health, including food safety, housing, occupational health, environmental protection and public health. Other studies put science in a social, economic and legal context. Emphasis is also placed on developing skills in general management, communication, negotiating, analysis and evaluation. There is a mix of laboratory work, case studies, visits and group projects.
To qualify, EHPs complete an experiential learning portfolio (ELP) that shows evidence of work-based learning. This is gained through a placement (normally between nine and twelve months) with an approved organisation. This may be completed as part of a degree course or after graduation.
The last stage of qualification is the professional exam. The exam consists of a substantial written case study concentrating on environmental health cases, and an interview.
Successful candidates are awarded the Certificate of Registration by the Environmental Health Registration Board (EHRB) and become fully qualified EHPs.
With an additional five years' experience, practitioners may apply for Chartered status through the Assessment of Professional Development (APD) scheme, supported by the CIEH.
The CIEH also runs seminars and workshops for their members. All CIEH members have to undertake continuing professional development (CPD) to keep up to date with developments in the profession. CPD includes technical and management courses and training on new and existing legislation.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
An environmental health practitioner should:
EHPs in local authorities and other public sector organisations have a clearly defined promotion structure that leads to senior, principal and chief officer posts. There are also opportunities for promotion to senior positions in the private sector.
Practitioners who have done general work may choose to specialise or move into training and consultancy work. Many set up their own consultancies.
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.