How to become an environmental health officer

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Carol Shaw is an environmental health officer with her local council. She works with businesses on a range of issues, from safety in the workplace to investigating complaints about noise and odours.

Can you describe your role as an environmental health officer?

Part of my job is to make sure that food sold to the public is hygienically prepared and safe to eat. I inspect businesses carrying out all kinds of food operations, including factories, shops, hotels, restaurants, cafes, takeaways, home caterers, pubs and dairies.

As well as regular routine visits, I also investigate complaints from members of the public.

Do you tell businesses that you are going to visit?

No, because I want to see everyday working conditions, rather than something which businesses have prepared especially for me.

What does a visit involve?

I check whether employees are washing their hands thoroughly and wearing the right protective clothing. I also make sure that utensils and food preparation areas are clean and in good repair. It is essential that food is stored correctly, so I check that the business is following procedures.

What do you do if a business is not meeting standards?

In minor cases, I give a business a list of improvements that must be made in a given time. In serious cases I can take the business to court and close it down.

Does all your work involve food?

No. I visit all kinds of businesses including warehouses, leisure clubs, golf clubs, retail shops, offices and children's play centres to ensure that the workplace is safe and healthy. As well as routine visits, I also investigate accidents at work and complaints about poor standards of health and safety.

What else do you do?

I am part of a team that investigates outbreaks of infectious diseases in the community. My role is to investigate the source of the disease and stop it spreading further, particularly if food is involved.

Do you work with new businesses?

When a new business applies for planning permission, I advise on environmental legislation.

That could include how to control noise and odours, what facilities are needed for staff, the design of a food production area, ways to maintain water quality in a swimming pool, or ways of separating pedestrians and vehicles in a warehouse. Also, I am involved in granting licences to businesses to allow them to operate.

What qualities do you need to be an environmental health officer?

You must like people because you will be in daily contact with a wide variety of people from all backgrounds. Although you can use the law when a business isn't meeting standards, most people respond to persuasion and reason so you need to be able to listen, advise and educate as well as being firm and assertive when needed.

What hours do you work?

Normally 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, but it is important to be flexible to deal with issues that arise outside of normal hours. About five times a year I am on call as duty officer for a week. I could be called out at any time of the day or night, including weekends, for emergencies such as serious accidents at work, food poisoning outbreaks or large-scale noisy events.

What do you like most about your job?

I meet people from all walks of life and spend a lot of time out of the office, dealing with an enormous range of issues. I really enjoy the variety and the challenge of juggling my workload.

Carol's route to her career as an environmental health officer

  • GCSEs and one A level.
  • Worked in medical microbiology.
  • Joined an environmental health department as a technician.
  • BTEC ONC (two years) and HNC (two years) courses in Environmental Health while working full-time.
  • BSc (Hons) Environmental Health (three years, part-time) while working full-time.
  • Chartered Institute of Environmental Health professional exams.

Carol's environmental health officer tips

  • Contact your local environmental health department and ask if you can shadow officers, visiting businesses and people in their homes.
  • Some retailers, breweries, consultancy firms, and travel companies may have their own in-house environmental health officer.

Environmental health officer related jobs

Salary working as an environmental health officer

  • The typical annual salary for a qualified environmental health officer working in a local authority is £20,000 to £30,000.
  • With promotion to managerial level, or head of department, you could earn up to £60,000 or more. Salaries in the private sector may vary considerably.

How to become an environmental health officer

  • To become an environmental health officer you must hold a BSc Hons or a MSc accredited by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH).
  • You must also complete a set amount of practical training, at least half of which must be with a UK local authority. Your practical training logbook and portfolio of evidence are assessed by the CIEH as part of the registration process.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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