What is Environmental Health and why is it important?
15 September 2021
Have you ever wondered who to seek in the case your landlord is not providing the minimum safety or hygiene standards for your property, or if your local shop has a clear food safety issue? That is where Environmental Health Officers come in.
Environmental Health covers a wide array of areas such as Private Sector Housing, Food Safety, Environmental Protections among others. It is highly likely that at some point you have encountered an Environmental Health Officer and didn’t even realise it. All local authorities across the UK have a statutory duty to guarantee that the living environmental within the authority is safe to a high standard.
Environmental Health has recently been in the spotlight due to the Covid pandemic; this health officer has not been as widely recognised as other frontline workers despite having played a key role. They have been ensuring businesses were safe and able to re-open and trade in the midst of the pandemic.
The fundamental role of Environmental Health Officers during Covid brought to light the importance of this profession and the shortage of officers currently available. Additionally, Brexit also had an impact as 40% of all EU legislation is related to food services, this meant that with Brexit new measures have had to be put in place by Environmental Health Officers.
There are many reasons why there is a shortage of Environmental Health Officers currently, which is a topic that should be explored in itself. However, one of the most common reasons I have come across through speaking with professionals in the area is the lack of funding, which has also resulted in a lack of students and entry level officers being taken on by councils in the past few years. I recently spoke to a contractor I placed in a local authority who mentioned he started his career in Environmental Health in the 1980s, and that he joined the council as a trainee alongside nine others. Fast forward to the present, day and it is quite common to come across councils that have not taken on a single trainee for the past few years.
Another reason is the lack of awareness of the profession. It is important that students are aware of Environmental Health as a degree option and the wide array of opportunities this degree provides- hopefully recent world affairs will increase interest in the profession amongst the younger generation.
I have noticed that lately there has been more recognition of Environmental Health as at the height of the pandemic, Channel 4 had mentioned that there was a shortage of officers and the CIEH (Chartered Institute for Environmental Health) is working to make this profession more widely known and accessible. These are some steps in the right direction, but ultimately more investment is needed from the government to reignite this sector which is so crucial to the wellbeing of the population.