You’ve probably heard of an Environmental Health Officer (EHO) before. The chances are, you’ve even seen the results of their work around your local community. But how much do you actually know about what they do?
If you’ve ever been curious about a career as an Environmental Health Officer or you own a business where EHOs may have to visit, then you’ve come to the right place. Today, we are going to be providing a detailed insight into the day-to-day duties of an EHO, the roles they play in public health and safety, and in what kind of industries you may come across an Environmental Health Officer.
What is an Environmental Health Officer?
Although commonly associated with food hygiene and safety, the world of an Environmental Health Officer is in fact incredibly varied. Despite common misconceptions, most Environmental Health Officers will have upwards of 100 different kinds of establishments on their inspection list, which extend far beyond restaurants and catering vans, and can include anything from rented properties and farms to public buildings and care homes.
Sometimes known as Public Health Inspectors, EHOs have a huge responsibility in ensuring that protective measures are in place – making sure that public health and safety is upheld across a range of industries.
What does an EHO do?
The daily work of an EHO is diverse, and tasks can vary from one moment to the next depending on the type of business in question. EHOs can be employed by both the private and public sector and are responsible not only for inspecting businesses and properties for risks but they also have an obligation to take action in the event that a health and safety breach has taken place.
Here are just some of the main areas where an Environmental Health Officer has responsibility:
- Pollution – The monitoring and control of environmental pollution is an important aspect of an EHO’s work.
- Accidents at work– If an accident at work takes place, an EHO may be brought in to assess the workplace for any health and safety breaches that could be improved.
- Noise control – Where noise complaints have been made, an EHO may be asked to investigate the complaint for a breach of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
- Toxic contamination – Toxic contamination can cover a range of scenarios and industries and includes everything from polluted water through to toxic chemicals and air pollution.
- Pest infestation – EHOs may be brought in to inspect residential properties or commercial buildings if there has been an outbreak of pests such as rats, mice or cockroaches for instance.
- Food poisoning – If a member of the public experiences food poisoning or reports suspected poor hygiene in any establishment where food is sold or prepared, an EHO may be called in to inspect the premises.
- Waste management – An EHO can be called in where poor waste management is taking place.
- Fire safety breaches – If fire safety standards aren’t maintained in a commercial setting, an EHO may be asked to investigate the business further.
- Housing standards – In cases where tenants, neighbours or landlords make a complaint about poor living standards of a rented property, an EHO may be called out to investigate further.
Where are you likely to find an Environmental Health Officer?
Due to the varied nature of everyday work, there are a number of industries that could come into contact with an Environmental Health Officer, including the following:
- Private Accommodation
- Public Accommodation
- Catering vans
- Commercial offices
- Building sites
A day in the life of an Environmental Health Officer
Ever wondered what the average day of an Environmental Health Officer looks like? It may surprise you to know that this role involves a host of different duties, including the following:
- Writing reports – When it comes to health and safety, there is a lot of red tape. EHOs are required to document their inspections and findings, and so reports are a huge part of their everyday work.
- Providing training courses – EHOs are not there to close down businesses, and so where improvements are required, in many cases an EHO will provide training to ensure standards can be improved for the long term.
- Investigating complaints – Investigating complaints is a big part of an EHO’s job, and due to the nature of their work, they can often turn up without notice to investigate a complaint.
- Serving legal notices – Where conditions are poor or health and safety breaches have taken place, an EHO has the authority to issue legal notices to businesses, landlords and managers. These legal notices ensure that immediate correction is taken for the overall safety of both the business and those affected.
- Providing evidence in court – In many cases where legal proceedings must take place, an EHO will be required to attend court to provide their findings in front of a judge.
- Working with organisations and liaising with them – An EHO depends heavily on communication and strong relationships with other organisations within the local community. Very often, where issues must be resolved, EHOs rely on a collaborative effort from multiple sources.
- Advising employers on all environmental health matters – It is a critical aspect of an EHO’s role to ensure all management are informed on the most up-to-date environmental health issues in their community.
What sort of power does an Environmental Health Officer have?
When it comes to legalities, an Environmental Health Officer has a certain level of power to ensure they can carry out the necessary actions in the case of a health and safety breach.
With regards to food hygiene and safety, an EHO has the power to do all of the following:
- Enter into any premises – It is against the law to refuse entry of an EHO into your premises.
- Control of premises – An EHO has the power to enforce legal notices if businesses are in breach of the Food Safety Act 1990. These include Hygiene Improvement Notices, Prohibition Procedures and Seizure and Detention notices.
- Sampling – If an EHO suspects food to be contaminated or suspects any type of risk, they have the power to take photos and samples of the food for further analysis.
- Detain foods – In the case of severe health and safety breaches, EHOs have the power to detain foods that are suspected as unfit for sale or consumption.
When will an EHO visit?
The amount that a site will be visited by an EHO really depends on the nature of the business, and the severity of the risk. Some establishments may receive a routine visit every six months or so, whilst others may have much more frequent visits where a possible risk is posed.
It is important to remember that most Environmental Health Officers will come unannounced. This is to make sure conditions cannot be temporarily altered specifically for the visit, and that they are able to get an accurate idea of the situation.
Who might hire an Environmental Health Officer?
Typically, an EHO will be hired by the local authority to deal with health and safety complaints. However, there are a number of other employers who may seek out the specialist knowledge of an EHO. These include:
- Large manufacturers
- Occupational health and safety consultancies
- Health service executives
Environmental Health Officer case studies
With so many variants on the average day of an EHO, it can be tricky to get an accurate idea of what the role entails. Below are a few examples of scenarios where an Environmental Health Officer would be required.
- Restaurant – Staff at a restaurant have discovered a rat infestation and have complained about working with unclean equipment and out-of-date food. An EHO has performed an unplanned visit and discovered that the hygiene standards breach the Food Safety Act 1990. In this scenario, the EHO has served a notice that the kitchen must be closed. They will then be able to provide proper training and guidance to improve the restaurant, along with serving them with a poor food hygiene rating.
- Rented accommodation – A young couple living in rented housing have complained to their landlord repeatedly about damp and mould in the home. Following several attempts to resolve the issue, the couple have contacted their local authority who send out an EHO to investigate the conditions of the property thoroughly under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). The EHO inspects damp, checks if the fire alarm and carbon monoxide alarms work, assesses whether the layout is unsafe, if the building is unstable and what type of mould is present (if any). In this scenario, conditions were found to be poor, and so the EHO ordered the landlord to improve conditions and repair any damages done.
- Supermarket – Several members of the public have made complaints and voiced their concerns about the way a local supermarket is run. An EHO has been requested to visit and investigate the claims further. In this scenario, it was found that whilst improvements could certainly be made, no serious breach of health and safety had taken place. The EHO provided specific training to all members of staff and would carry out further, and regular, visits.
- Industrial site – Residents of a local estate have put formal complaints into their local council regarding the fumes from a nearby industrial site. An EHO has been instructed to go on-site and assess for air pollution. In this scenario, the EHO offers guidance and advice to the management team, who must carry out some immediate changes to ensure they are adhering to the law.
The take-home message is that although Environmental Health Officers get a bad reputation amongst a range of industries, these specialists train hard to be on top of the health and safety laws required to protect both businesses and the general public. Also, the EHO will publish a rating when visiting food premises. These ratings can be seen by customers on the Food Standards Agency website.
Although often misunderstood, most EHOs want to support and educate business owners to improve. They do not aim to shut businesses down and will go above and beyond to provide the tools needed to offer a safe and trustworthy service, regardless of the industry.